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Column: Activism with Ari – Gaysically, homophobia sucks!

By ARIANA GHALAMBOR

Homophobia? Isn’t that, like, when people hate gays? It’s 2020: why is it still prevalent? Let’s talk about it. 

Homophobia is the irrational fear of, hatred of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexual people or perceived behavior. There are multiple types of homophobia: internalized, interpersonal, and institutional. Sometimes homophobia isn’t identifiable and can happen in many different ways. According to DoSomething, Stonewall UK,  60% of American LGBT+ students report feeling unsafe at school because of their sexuality. In the U.K., only 46% of LGBT+ people feel that they are able to be transparent about their sexual orientation to their families. 29% of the entire world’s population believes that people in same-sex relationships should be charged as criminals. In more than half of the countries around the world, LGBTQIA+ people may or may not be protected from discrimination by workplace law. In 8 countries there is evidence of sentencing the death penalty based on homosexuality being legal. 72 countries around the world still criminalize homosexuality and same-sex relationships. Let that sink in.          

Although America more recently legalized gay marriage, this does not mean our citizens are free from threats, discrimination, bias, or hatred. All people were not created equal. In a country built on liberty and freedom, how can this be? According to History.com, one of the earliest said liberation acts advocating for LGBT+ rights was founded by a German immigrant named Henry Gerber in Chicago 1924. It was the Society for Human Rights, the first documented gay-rights organization in the United States. During Gerber’s service to the U.S. Army, he was inspired to create his organization by the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, which was a homosexual emancipation group in Germany. His small group achieved small accomplishments such as publishing in the local newspaper (the country’s first gay-interest newsletter), but unfortunately, police raids caused the group to disband the following year.

The Homophile years. In 1950, Harry Hay founded the Mattachine Foundation, one of the nation’s first gay-rights group. This is when the Los Angeles organization came up with the term homophile, which was used to describe homosexuality in a less formal and clinical way that focused on sexuality rather than attraction. This group started out small, but over time their discussions and activism liberated and empowered many men of this group and began to flourish until a founding member named Dale Jennings was arrested for solicitation and then later set free. Later, Jennings found another group called ONE, Inc., which welcomed women as well. This group was the first to publish a pro-gay magazine. Years later, Jennings and Harry Hay were kicked out of both said groups for being communists, but this magazine continued. In 1958, ONE, Inc. won a lawsuit against the U.S. Post Office who claimed that the magazine company was obscene and inappropriate- they refused to deliver the magazines. These early years of LGBT+ history finally beginning to thrive in the 1950s came to an end when the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a form of a mental disorder in the D.S.M (diagnostic manuals used by psychiatrists). 

The following year, in 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower signed an executive order that officially banned gay people (or those guilty of “sexual perversion”) from working in federal jobs. This ban continued to make the LGBT community suffer for over 20 years. In the ‘60s the term transgender became more prevalent and gender reassignment surgeries started to be trialed, but despite these successes to the community, gay men and women of New York were not allowed to be served alcohol in public places because the gathering of homosexuals was considered to be disorderly (History.com). Because small-bar businesses worried about being shut down by local government officials, they denied service to any individuals that were suspected of being gay and often kicked them out of the facility. However, other bartenders would serve to LGBT members, but force them to turn away from the other customers so they could not socialize. 

The Stonewall Inn. In 1969, one of the most well-known gay rights movements happened that has shaped American LGBT history and culture for many years to come: The Stonewall Riots. The gay club, Stonewall Inn was located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Despite progressive winds sweeping the nation, New York was known for its strict enforcement of anti-homosexual laws that made it risky for gay people to congregate in public, let alone at a bar. The Mafia decided to take things into their own hands by operating this private club. C.N.N. reports, “Robert Bryan moved to New York in 1968 for the “dancing and cute boys” at Stonewall. He says most of the clientele was like him: gay, white, and cisgender”. 

Because Stonewall served many gay customers, police raids were a common occurrence, but the managers usually bribed the police officers in advance, so the dancing and clubbing wouldn’t be disrupted. However, there was no tipping off the night of the raid that launched the Stonewall Riots. Before the Stonewall riots, members of the LGBTQ+ community clashed with police at Cooper’s Donuts and the Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles, San Francisco’s Compton’s Cafeteria, and at Dewey’s restaurant in Philadelphia, among other skirmishes. They staged pickets in Washington to protest the exclusion of homosexuals from military service and gathered in Philadelphia each year on July 4 for “annual reminders” demanding legal protections. Mattachine-New York helped end policies permitting police entrapment. But police raids of bars and bathhouses continued, and a spate of violent homophobic attacks put the LGBTQ community on edge. On Tuesday, June 24, police raided the Stonewall, rankling patrons who were tired of being harassed. But Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine, commander of the New York Police Department’s vice squad, would not back down. He returned the following Friday with plans to tear up the bar and slap the owners with enough infractions to shut it down for good. Almost immediately, police encountered resistance, Pine later told Carter. 

Shortly after midnight, Bryan said he was walking down Christopher Street with a friend when a young man came running. 

“They’re raiding the Stonewall,” he announced.

He joined a crowd gathering across the street in a small plaza. As officers wrestled with a “butch lesbian” who was resisting arrest, Bryan said the crowd threw anything they could get their hands on — coins, bricks, bottles. Police chased rioters through Greenwich Village’s streets while Bryan observed a “chorus line” form in front of officers and start chanting.

Carter and Marcus said pictures from the first night show a “rainbow of kids,” seemingly street kids and homeless LGBTQ youth, who were likely the main instigators” (Information sourced from CNN.com’s interviewee, Robert Bryan). Many rumors spread the next morning like wildfire, about 2,000 people appeared at the riots by the following Saturday. The protesters were holding signs demanding justice, publicly displaying same-sex affection, and chanting phrases hoping for justice. From the very beginning of American history, LGBT+ citizens have faced hatred and discrimination, or what was labeled earlier, homophobia.

By the end of the protests and riots, 21 people were injured. Both protesters and policemen were injured, but a spark was born in our country: the desire for gay rights. Weeks later, more and more groups were holding protests such as the Gay Activist Alliance, Mattachine New York-led protest, and the Gay Liberation Front. Years following the protests, the people of New York decided to make it an annual tradition to march among Greenwich Village in memory of the riots, calling it the Christopher Street Liberation March. To many people, it was after this march that “gay-pioneers” were able to realize what might be possible for the LGBT community. 

There are many forms of homophobia: internalized, interpersonal, and institutional. Internalized homophobia is a conscious or subconscious form of homophobia that an LGBT+ person feels about their own sexual orientation. Internalized homophobia is a product of society’s social values (sourced from The Rainbow Resource Centre, The Rainbow Project). In our often discriminatory culture, we may learn negative ideas about same-sex attraction. Like everyone else, LGBT+ people may be led into believing that being non-heterosexual is somehow bad or immoral which can lead to feelings of self-hatred and self-disgust. Some ways internalized homophobia manifests itself are: attempts to alter your sexual orientation, denial of your sexual orientation to yourself, attempts to pass as heterosexual out of personal shame, contempt for more open LGBT+ members, denial that homophobia is a serious problem, or shame, depression, anger, or bitterness. 

Interpersonal homophobia is a personal aversion towards homosexuality which may be both conscious or unconscious. These attitudes may be manifested in discrimination, hostile behavior, hate crimes, or microaggressions. Examples of interpersonal homophobia are: an employer not hiring or promoting a qualified individual solely due to their sexuality, the discriminatory use of homophobic slurs such as f**got and d*ke, making, laughing at, or not speaking up against homophobic jokes, and physically harassing or assaulting someone for being LGBT+. Interpersonal homophobia can be unconscious as well and take form in microaggressions.

Examples of how interpersonal homophobia may appear in one’s daily life. (ARIANA GHALAMBOR/ La Plaza multimedia)

Institutional homophobia is the built-in institutional practice of putting LGBT+ folks at a disadvantage, according to the Rainbow Resource Centre. It includes discrimination by systems such as government, businesses, employers, and public services. This can take the form of active policies or laws that exclude/limit their rights, the physical environment, cultural norms, or unwritten rules that are based on the attitude and actions towards LGBT+ people by staff. Examples of institutional homophobia include (but are not limited to): in some hospitals, same-sex spouses may not be recognized as immediate family due to hospital policies, same-sex couples sometimes having different legal rights in adopting children compared to heterosexual couples, when sexual education classes in schools focus on straight couples as the only accepted norm for all students, and when a company invites an employee and their husband/wife to an event, excluding same-sex relationships.

The harmful effects of homophobia may lead to increased mental and physical health risks amongst LGBT+ individuals including lower self-esteem, depression, and self-destructive behavior (i.e. substance abuse, and/or unsafe and risky sexual behavior). In a study done by Stonewall U.K., 52% of LGBT people have experienced some form of depression in the last year. 13% of LGBT people ages 18-24 said they have attempted to take their own lives in the last year. 14% of LGBT people have avoided health treatment out of fear of discrimination and bias.

Conversion Therapy. According to the Trevor Project, conversion therapy is any of several dangerous and discredited practices aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Conversion therapists use a variety of shaming, emotionally traumatic, or physically painful stimuli to make their victims associate those stimuli with their identities. According to studies by the UCLA Williams Institute, more than 700,000 LGBTQ+ people have been subjected to the horrors of conversion therapy, and an estimated 80,000 LGBTQ+ youth will experience it in the coming years, often at the insistence of well-intentioned but misinformed parents or caretakers. 

Conversion therapy for years has been one of the leading causes of internalized homophobia. It leads to LGBT+ individuals feeling guilty, ashamed, and disgusted of themselves. Conversion therapy is built on the false notion that being LGBTQ+ is a mental illness that should be cured, despite all major medical associations’ agreement that LGBTQ+ identities are a normal variant of human nature. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association determined that homosexuality was not a mental illness in 1973. In addition to its flawed foundation, no credible scientific study has ever supported the claims of conversion therapists to actually change a person’s sexual orientation. 

On the contrary, a 2007 report by an American Psychological Association task force found that “results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex attractions or increase other-sex sexual attractions through [sexual orientation change efforts].” In fact, Dr. Robert Spitzer, whose research had previously been misused to support conversion therapy, has retracted his original claims, stating that data regarding conversion therapy had been misinterpreted and that there is no conclusive evidence for its effectiveness. 

The risks of conversion therapy extend far beyond its ineffectiveness, and the time and money wasted on treatments that don’t work. The American Psychiatric Association has clarified that “the potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.” The Pan American Health Organization, a regional office of the World Health Organization, concluded that conversion therapy “lack[s] medical justification and represent[s] a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.” Conversion therapy amplifies the shame and stigma so many young LGBTQ+ people already experience. Parents who send their child to conversion therapy instill feelings of family rejection and disappointment. They risk seriously fracturing their relationship with their child.

 In a study by San Francisco State University, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth who were rejected by their families and caregivers due to their identities were nearly six times more likely to report high levels of depression and more than eight times more likely to have attempted suicide when compared to youth from accepting and affirming families and caregivers. Few practices hurt LGBTQ+ youth more than attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. All children deserve a climate in which they are loved and embraced. 

There is still more to discuss homophobia in our society today and many individuals have been suffering from discrimination based on their sexual orientation for centuries. America, as a country, is now beginning to delve into such topics and explain our tragic LGBT+ history that shames us as a nation. The truth is, homophobia may never be solved in our lifetimes, but it surely needs to be addressed, discussed, and talked about. In short of this lesson, gaysically, homophobia sucks! And you can fight it. Here’s how:

Explore and identify your own biases, judgment, stereotypes, and homophobic attitudes and/or beliefs.

Make sure to tell your friends, family, and children that you love them no matter what their sexual orientation is.

Listen without judgment. Don’t make assumptions. Be supportive of others and provide them with resources.

Educate yourself more on this topic. Ask questions, read a book, watch a film, visit a website, contact LGBTQIA+ resource centers, and many more!

Use inclusive language. “Do you have a partner/significant other?” instead of boyfriend/girlfriend.

Don’t be afraid to challenge discriminatory jokes, stereotypes, behaviors, or dialogues! Your voice might make all the difference. Not speaking out against homophobia is part of why homophobia is still so prevalent in today’s society. 

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