What is Homophobia?

Homophobia takes many different forms. Sometimes it takes the form of physical acts of hate, violence, verbal assault, vandalism or blatant discrimination, such as firing an employee, evicting someone from their housing, or denying them access to public accommodations based solely on their sexual orientation or their perceived/assumed sexual orientation. There are many other kinds of homophobia and heterosexism that happen every day. We often overlook these more subtle actions and exclusions because they seem so insignificant by comparison but they are not. It is important for supportive allies of the GLBT community to recognize certain homophobic levels of attitude so that they may take steps towards changing that attitude.

  • Looking at a lesbian or gay man and automatically thinking of her/his sexuality rather than seeing her/him as a whole, complex person.
  • Changing your seat in a meeting because a lesbian sat in the chair next to yours.
  • Thinking you can spot some who identifies on the GLBT spectrum.
  • Using the terms “lesbian” or “gay” as accusatory.
  • Thinking that a lesbian (if you are female) or gay man (if you are male) is making sexual advances if she/he touches you.
  • Feeling repulsed by public displays of affection between lesbians and gay men but accepting the same displays of affection between heterosexuals.
  • Not confronting a homophobic remark for fear of being identified with lesbians and gays.
  • Not asking about a woman’s female partner or a man’s male partner although you regularly ask “How is your husband/wife?” when you run into a heterosexual friend.
  • Feeling that gays and lesbians are too outspoken about lesbian and gay civil rights.
  • Feeling that discussions about homophobia are not necessary since you are “okay” on these issues.
  • Assuming that everyone you meet is heterosexual.
  • Being outspoken about gay rights, but making sure everyone knows you are straight.
  • Feeling that a lesbian is just a woman who couldn’t find a man or that a lesbian is a woman who wants to be a man.
  • Feeling that a gay man is just a man who couldn’t find a woman or that a gay man is a man who wants to be a woman.
  • Worrying about the effect a lesbian or gay volunteer/co-worker will have on your work or your clients.
  • Failing to be supportive when your gay friend is sad about a quarrel or breakup.
  • Asking your lesbian or gay colleagues to speak about lesbian or gay issues, but not about other issues about which they may be knowledgeable.
  • Focusing exclusively on someone’s sexual orientation and not on other issues of concern.
  • Being afraid to ask questions about lesbian or gay issues when you don’t know the answers.

Homophobia in Clinical Terms

In the clinical sense, homophobia is defined as an intense, irrational fear of same sex relationships that become overwhelming to the person. In common usage, homophobia is the fear of intimate relationships with person of the same sex. Below are listed four homophobic attitudes and four positive levels of attitudes toward gay and lesbian relationships and people. (Developed by Dr. Dorothy Riddle of Tucson, Arizona)

Homophobic Levels of Attitude

Repulsion: Homosexuality is seen as a “crime against nature.” Gays are sick, crazy, immoral, sinful, wicked, etc. and anything is justified to change them (e.g. prison, hospitalization, negative behavior therapy, including electric shock).

Pity: Heterosexual chauvinism. Heterosexuality is more mature and certainly to be preferred. Any possibility of becoming straight should be reinforced and those who seem to be born “that way” should be pitied, “the poor dears.”

Tolerance: Homosexuality is just a phase of adolescent development that many people go through and most people “grow out of.” Thus, gays are less mature than straights and should be treated with the protectiveness and indulgence one uses with a child. Gays and lesbians should not be given positions of authority (because they are still working through adolescent behaviors).

Acceptance: Still implies there is something to “accept,” characterized by such statements as “you’re not a gay to me, you’re a person,” “What you do in bed is your own business,” “That’s fine as long as you don’t flaunt it.” Denies social and legal realities. Ignores the pain of invisibility and stress of closet behavior. “Flaunt” usually means say or do anything that makes people aware.

Positive Levels of Attitude

Support: Basic American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) approach. Work to safeguard the rights of gays and lesbians. Such people may be uncomfortable themselves, but they are aware of the climate and the irrational unfairness.

Admiration: Acknowledges that being gay/lesbian in our society takes strength. Such people are willing to truly look at themselves and work on their own homophobic attitudes.

Appreciation: Value the diversity of people and see gays as a valid part of that diversity. These people are willing to combat homophobia in themselves and in others.

Nurturance: Assume that gay and lesbian people are indispensable in our society. They view gays and lesbians with affection and delight and are willing to be gay advocates and allies.

How Homophobia Hurts Us All

You do not have to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual, or know someone who is, to be negatively affected by homophobia. Though homophobia actively oppresses gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, it also hurts heterosexuals.


  • Inhibits the ability of heterosexuals to form close, intimate relationships with members of their own sex, for fear of being perceived as gay, lesbian, or bisexual (GLB).
  • Locks people into rigid gender-based roles that inhibit creativity and self-expression.
  • Is often used to stigmatize heterosexuals; those perceived or labeled by others to be GLBT; children of GLBT parents; parents of GLBT children; and friends of GLBT people.
  • Compromises human integrity by pressuring people to treat others badly, actions that are contrary to their basic humanity.
  • Combined with sex-phobia, results in the invisibility or erasure of GLB lives and sexuality in school-based sex education discussions, keeping vital information from students. Such erasures can kill people in the age of AIDS.
  • Is one of the causes of premature sexual involvement, which increases the chances of teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Young people, of all sexual identities, are often pressured to become heterosexually active to prove to themselves and others that they are “normal.”
    • The following is an example scenario of this, taken from the report “Making Colleges and Universities Safe for Gay and Lesbian Students,” produced by the Massachusetts Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth:
    • If a guy goes out on a date with some girl, and his friends ask him if he scored last night, if he says no, they’d say stuff like, “Oh, you’re not good enough,” or, “You must be a faggot.” If it happens over and over and over, they might even think he never went out on a date with her and that he must be gay. (Source: heterosexually identified 18-year-old young woman; page 27)
  • Prevents some GLBT people from developing an authentic self-identity and adds to the pressure to marry, which in turn places undue stress and often times trauma on themselves as well as their heterosexual spouses and their children.
  • Inhibits appreciation of other types of diversity, making it unsafe for everyone because each person has unique traits not considered mainstream or dominant. We are all diminished when any one of us is demeaned.
  • By challenging homophobia, people are not only fighting oppression for specific groups of people, but are striving for a society that accepts and celebrates the differences in all of us.

(Source: Western Michigan University, Safe on Campus Training Program)

Biphobia - Myths and Realities of Bisexuality

Sexuality runs along a continuum. It is not a static entity but rather has the potential to change throughout one’s lifetime, and varies infinitely among people. We cannot fit our sexuality into nice neat categories which determine who and what we are. Bisexuality exists at many points along the sexual continuum.

Myth: Bisexuality doesn’t really exist. People who consider themselves bisexuals are going through a phase, or they are confused, undecided, or fence-sitting. They’ll realize that they’re actually homosexual or heterosexual.
Reality: Bisexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation. Some people go through a transitional period of bisexuality on their way to adopting a lesbian/gay or heterosexual identity. For many others bisexuality remains a long-term orientation. For some bisexuals, homosexuality was a transitional phase in their coming out as bisexuals. Many bisexuals may well be confused, living in a society where their sexuality is denied by homosexuals and heterosexuals alike, but that confusion is a function of oppression.

Fence-sitting is a misnomer; there is no “fence” between homosexuality and heterosexuality except in the minds of people who rigidly divide the two. Whether an individual is an “experimenting heterosexual” or a bisexual depends on how s/he defines her/himself, rather than on a rigid standard. While there certainly are people for whom bisexual behavior is trendy, this does not negate the people who come to a bisexual identity amidst pain and confusion and claim it with pride. Many bisexuals are completely out of the closet, but not on the lesbian/gay community’s terms. Bisexuals in this country share with lesbians and gays the debilitating experience of heterosexism (the assumption that everyone is heterosexual and thereby rendering other sexual identities invisible) and homophobia (the hatred, fear, and discrimination against homosexuals).

Myth: Bisexuals are equally attracted to both sexes. Bisexual means having concurrent lovers of both sexes.
Reality: Most bisexuals are primarily attracted to either men or women, but do not deny the lesser attraction, whether or not they act on it. Some bisexuals are never sexual with women, or men, or either. Bisexuality is about dreams and desires and capacities as much as it is about acts. Bisexuals are people who can have lovers of either sex, not people who must have lovers of both sexes. Some bisexual people may have concurrent lovers, but bisexuals do not need to be with both sexes in order to feel fulfilled.

Myth: Bisexuals are promiscuous hypersexual swingers who are attracted to every woman and man they meet. Bisexuals cannot be monogamous, nor can they or live in traditional committed relationships. They could never be celibate.
Reality: Bisexual people have a range of sexual behaviors. Like lesbians, gays or heterosexuals, some have multiple partners, some have one partner, some go through periods without any partners. Promiscuity is no more prevalent in the bisexual population than in other groups of people.

Myth: Politically speaking, bisexuals are traitors to the cause of lesbian/gay liberation. They pass as heterosexual to avoid trouble and maintain heterosexual privilege.
Reality: Obviously there are bisexuals who pass as heterosexual to avoid trouble. There are also many lesbians and gays who do this. To “pass” for heterosexual and deny the part of you that loves people of the same gender is just as painful and damaging for a bisexual as it is for a lesbian or gay person.

Myth: Bisexuals get the best of both worlds and a doubled chance for a date on Saturday night.
Reality: Combine our society’s extreme heterosexism and homophobia with lesbian and gay hesitance to accept bisexuals into their community, and it might be more accurate to say that bisexuals get the worst of both worlds. As to the doubled chance for a date theory, that depends more upon the individual’s personality then it does upon her/his bisexuality. Bisexuals don’t radiate raw sex any more than lesbians, gays, or heterosexuals. If a bisexual woman has a hard time meeting people, her bisexuality won’t help much.

The terms “bisexual”, “lesbian”, “gay”, and “heterosexual” sometimes separate the gay community unnecessarily. The members of the GLBT community are unique and don’t fit into distinct categories. The community sometimes needs to use these labels for political reasons and to increase their visibility. Their sexual esteem is facilitated by acknowledging and accepting the differences and seeing the beauty in diversity. 

(Adapted from: Wall, Vernon A. and Nancy J. Evans (eds.)”Using Psychological development theories to understand and work with gay and lesbian persons” Beyond Tolerance: Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals on Campus. American College Personal Association. 1991.)

How Transphobia Hurts Our Communities

Transphobia is defined as a fear and/or hatred towards transgendered people, and it is a serious problem that affects many people. Transgender people are often marginalized and ignored in both gay and straight communities. Ignorance and hatred keep many transgendered people from speaking out or identifying themselves, which obscures them further. Like gay and lesbian people, many transgendered people cannot be picked out of a crowd just by the way they look and blend into the local communities. Just remember, there are at least a handful of transgendered people in every community and institution. You might very well sit next to a transgender person at school or at the office and not realize it.

Transgendered people are people just like you, but they have life experiences and struggles that differ from most non-transgendered people, which should be acknowledged and understood. The following stories are examples of transphobia that have happened to acquaintances of the author of this article, who also happens to be a member of the WPI community. The names of people in these examples have been changed in all but the last. While reading or hearing these stories please think about your classmates, housemates, loved ones, and family members. Think about how such incidents could affect you personally or the members of the community around you.

Mike is a transgendered man who is in the midst of medical transition and is gender-ambiguous looking. He also suffers from an ovarian/uterine condition that causes him much pain. Midnight on New Year’s Eve, he is rushed to a hospital by his roommate because he has begun hemorrhaging and is doubled over in pain. The nurses and doctor in the emergency room noticeably back away from him and avoid physical contact, despite his serious medical problem. After hours of waiting on a gurney in an isolated room, no tests or exams are performed and he is escorted to the parking lot. He is sent home bleeding and in great pain without any treatment.

Tyler is a transgender-identified high school student who presents hirself as gender ambiguous despite the cruel treatment ze receives by classmates. At a gathering after school, some male students beat hir to the ground and gang rape hir. Other students notice the commotion and gather around to laugh and point, but not to help their peer.

Ukea and Stephanie were both born biologically male, but identify as and live as women. They are best friends and stick by one another in the face of the taunts and harassment they receive from neighbors. Late one night, they drive home from a friend’s house and are never seen again. Their bodies are found early the next morning in Stephanie’s car. Both girls were shot at least ten times while sitting at a stop light. It is believed that their murders were motivated by hate.

These tragic incidents occur because of people’s ignorance, intolerance, and hatred towards transgender people. By educating yourself and becoming an ally to transgender people, you can combat ignorance and hatred and help prevent the occurrence of these atrocities.

(Written by Jesse Pack, ’03)

Understanding Transphobia and Transphobic Myths

Transphobia is the fear or hatred of transgender people. It can be found in forms ranging from jokes to violence to simply not acknowledging that transgender people exist. Transphobia hurts transpeople first and foremost. It also sends a message out to the population at large that anyone who tries on any expression or identity that does not conform to societal expectations of their gender will be ridiculed, silenced, economically marginalized, assaulted, or even killed. Often transphobia is used to keep people in rigid gender roles through intimidation. Everyone has something to gain from combating transphobia, even if you do not know of anyone in your life who is transgender.

The first and best way to fight transphobia is to speak out against violence and hateful speech about or directed towards transpeople. Movies that display transgender people as a joke or as psychotic should be denounced publicly for encouraging harmful stereotypes. When someone speaks of transpeople as "disgusting," "exotic," "funny," "sick," or other stereotypes that dehumanize transpeople let them know it is not okay to say hateful or hurtful things in your presence. The first big way allies can help is by calling people, media, and politicians on their comments and publicly acknowledging that they are being transphobic.

The other way to help transpeople is to know the facts about transpeople and their lives and educate people when transphobic myths are being perpetuated. Some common myths about transpeople are:

Myth: All transpeople are gay.

Some transpeople are attracted to the gender opposite of what they identify, some are attracted to the same gender as they identify, and some pick and choose among the genders. The simple truth is that gender identity has very little to do with sexual orientation.

Myth: Most transpeople are male-to-female.

Most media images of transpeople, especially of cross-dressers and transsexuals, have been MTF (male-to-female) but there are just as many FTM (female-to male) transgender people in the world.

Myth: All this transgender stuff is a trend.

Transgender people have existed in every documented society and culture in human history. Recently transpeople have been coming out more and talking about their lives, and more attention has been focused on their issues. Breaking the silence is an important part of securing safety for transpeople.

Myth: All transgender people want to change their sex.

Some transpeople do but many other transpeople are perfectly happy with their bodies but simply express or think of themselves in terms of a gender they were not assigned at birth.

Myth: Transpeople are miserable/ disturbed people.

Many transgender people have a lot of stress and anxiety, in large part due to the massive lack of acceptance of them and their identity. However, many transpeople still live meaningful, accomplished lives. Those who transition into a new gender role may find much relief, but many transpeople find happiness and health across the many stages of their lives.

Myth: Transpeople are erotic/exotic.

The sexualization of transgender people is a huge industry and perpetuates many myths about transpeople and their sexuality. The objectification and eroticization of transpeople hurts and detracts from their basic humanity.

Myth: Transwomen are not “real women” or transmen are not “real men.”

Many people, upon finding out someone they know is transgender comment something like "Oh! You mean he's really a woman!" Transgender people are really the gender they identify as, and usually have been so their whole lives. While it is true their experiences at times differ from someone who might have been assigned their gender at birth, difference of perspective does not make for authentic gender.