How many times have we heard an anti-gay religious person or leader protest “I am not homophobic”. We hear it constantly in Australia and overseas. I hear it from the lips of church leaders and Christians I speak to as they tell me that they “love the sinner but hate the sin”.
How frequently do we hear the label homophobe given to anyone who says anything negative against homosexuality or marriage equality. It’s the quick and defining label that falls easily from the lips of an outraged gay person.
The terms homophobia, homophobic, homophobe are often problematic
The word homophobia was coined in 1960’s initially used to describe heterosexual males aversion to homosexuality, homosexual men and also the fear that others might think they are gay.
Homophobia is not exclusively heterosexual. Gay people themselves can be homophobic. Internalised homophobia (hatred of self) is very real for many gay and lesbian people. For those from religious backgrounds it can remain entrenched from years of negative conditioning about their gay selves and lurks under the surface in their subconscious undetected in their behaviours, comments and attitudes.
Since the 1960’s the term homophobia has evolved and expanded substantially to include negative statements, behaviours and attitudes towards same-sex-oriented people, their relationships and the LGBTI community itself. Unfortunately the word phobia is strongly linked to fear so some people, knowing that don’t fear gay people, will say they are not homophobic. But do they really know what it means?
I suggested to a pastor recently, who was quite adamant that he wasn’t homophobic, that possibly only a gay person really knows what homophobia is as they are the ones who experience it. I gave him some examples.
- Being yelled at from a passing car of strangers and called faggott or queer.
- Having a person physically threaten you because you are gay
- Walking into a room where everyone is greeted warmly but you get a cold handshake…or at worst ignored
- People distance themselves from you because they don’t want to get to close to you
- Others girlfriends and boyfriends get invited to family functions but not yours
A gay person knows exactly what homophobia is. They have experienced it many times. Sometimes from those they wished for love and acceptance instead of rejection or suspicion. Some of us have learned to live with it and accept it as a part of our lot in life. But it is never acceptable.
When compared to the experience of many LGBT people around the world these experiences seem trivial. Violence, imprisonment and death hang constantly over the lives of LGBT people still in too many parts of the world.
This is the day when we remember the journey to acceptance and equality for lesbian.gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people has been a long and difficult one and most certainly is not over. A day when each of us, gay or straight, can pledge to make a difference whether that be in our homes, work places, nationally or internationally.
Never think your voice is not important because everyone of us adds the growing cry of equality, freedom, respect and dignity for all.