In a 1998 address, Coretta Scott King, an author, activist, and civil rights leader, stated that, “Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood.”
Discrimination by reason of sexual orientation, often referred to as homophobia, embraces prejudices against gay men, lesbians, bisexual and transgender individuals. It can also include people who are asexual or intersexual. This form of discrimination also extends to gender identity bias, in which individuals are targeted for violence on the grounds that they do not conform to gender stereotypes in their appearance or in their behavior. Homophobic violence is an extreme form of such discrimination. Negative attitudes towards homosexual behavior, identity, relationships and community, can lead to homophobic behavior. Homophobia can manifest itself into many forms, for example; homophobic jokes, bullying in school, teasing, physical attacks and other hate crimes, and discrimination in the work place and media representation.
The bulk of studies on homophobia have shown consistent patterns. When compared to those with more favorable attitudes toward lesbians and gay men, these studies have found that persons with negative attitudes towards homosexuals:
1. are less likely to have had personal contact with lesbians or gay men.
2. Are less likely to report having engaged in homosexual behaviors, or to identify themselves as lesbian or gay.
3. are more likely to perceive their peers as manifesting negative attitudes, especially if the respondents are males.
4. Are more likely to have resided in areas where negative attitudes are the norm (e.g., the Midwestern and Southern United States, the Canadian prairies, and in rural areas or small towns), especially during adolescence.
5. are likely to be older and less educated.
6. are more likely to be religious, to attend church frequently, and to subscribe to a conservative religious ideology.
7. are more likely to express traditional, restrictive attitudes about sex roles.
8. are less permissive sexually or manifest more guilt or negativity about sexuality, although some researchers have not observed this pattern and others have reported a substantially reduced correlation with the effects of sex-role attitudes partialled out.
9. are more likely to manifest high levels of authoritarianism and related personality characteristics.
Some studies note that, sex differences in the direction and intensity of negative attitudes towards homosexuals have been observed fairly consistently. It appears that heterosexuals tend to have more negative attitudes towards homosexuals of their own sex than those of the opposite sex.
Although homosexuality is still considered a taboo in many countries, some countries like the United Kingdom, France and the United States have begun showing growing tolerance and acceptance towards homosexuality. This has helped reduce the prevalent cases of homophobia in these countries. However, in several Asian countries, homosexuality is still considered illegal and is not accepted within the Asian culture. Although governments have abolished all laws that criminalize homosexuality, there is still a long way to go till it is formally accepted as a part of the culture.
On October 12th, 1998 a 21-year old man named Matthew Shepard died in a hospital in Laramie, WY. On October 6th of that year Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were drinking in a bar supposedly plotting to steal $10,000 worth of meth from a local drug dealer. After several failed attempts they decided to leave. The duo offered a drunken Matthew Shepard a ride home.
Matthew, a student of the University of Wyoming, was a openly gay male. According to McKinney, Matthew touched his leg in a sexual manner. Fueled by drugs, McKinney hit Matthew with a pistol he had planned to use for the theft. The men then drove out to a rural area and tied Matthew Shepard to a fence. The men then proceeded to beat him, taking his shoes and $30 from his wallet with them as they drove away.
Matthew Shepard lay out in the open for 18 hours, he was later found by a local officer after being mistaken for a scarecrow. After being rushed to the hospital, Shepard later succumbed to his injures. He would not die however before his story brought the topic of gay’s in our society out in the open.
During Shepard’s funeral anti-gay protesters from Kansas stood outside the church where his services were being held. Students paid their respects. The gay community found a “poster child”. The country was and is in a very transitional state.
Matthew Shepard’s death made headlines around the US and other parts of the world. Whether or not his death was the result of drugs or hatred, we cannot be sure. However it did bring the gay community and our acceptance of them into the spotlight.
In more recent years, the gay community has tried to make themselves more equal with their heterosexual counterparts in society. Proposition 8, a bill that was brought before the California government system, hoped to clarify California’s stance on marriage. The bill if passed would state in California’s constitution that marriage would only be recognized between a man and a woman. By a vote of 54% to 46% the bill passed.
Debate continues to rage as to how we view the gay community in America. Extreme anti-gay activists see homosexuality as a sin, while lesser activists want to protect the sanctity of marriage. Supporters want to see equality. While a person would hope to live in a stigma-free world the truth is that there will always be a stigma against gays, there will always be racism in the world, there will be war, famine, poverty, and death. These are things we can work toward changing, but to do so we will have to change the way we treat others and the way we think about their lifestyles.
Human Rights First “Homophobia: 2007 Hate Crime Survey.”
Gregory M. Herek “Hating Gays: An overview of Scientific Studies.”
ABC News “Matthew Shepard’s Funeral”
Facts on Proposition 8