The issue of homophobia and discrimination against non-heterosexual persons is a hot topic this week after Australia’s former world swim champion announced his homosexuality on national TV. Ian Thorpe engaged Sir Michael Parkinson in a tell-all interview that aired in Australia on Sunday night two weeks back. The response to the interview has been divided with sentiments right along the spectrum ‘coming out’ (mind the pun) from strength, support and pride to confusion, condemnation and discrimination. We have even seen division amongst the homosexual community due to the fact that he publicly denied his true sexuality for as long as he did.
I write this entry with a few initial points of note:
- I am explicitly aware that by denouncing homophobia, I am perhaps alienating myself from a few fans that follow this blog that have very outdated attitudes toward sexuality. I am willing to risk the loss of those followers because sexual equality and throwing our support behind a discriminated subsection of the community is an issue of morality.
- I am by no means perfect and whilst naivety is not an excuse, it is only with education and awareness that I have become increasingly aware of the types of discrimination that exist in society. I am embarrassed by the fact that I have in the past (and very occasionally, still do), made judgements about another person that are discriminatory and a result of my naivety for how that judgement might have affected that person. Complacency or ignorance is not an excuse.
- When I use the term ‘homosexual’, I use it as a more practical reference to all of the subtypes of non-hetereosexual including gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and sexual/gender-diverse persons.
‘Homophobia’ – Defined
Homophobia is an irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals or more loosely, any individual that is not hetrosexual. This attitude often leads to behaviour that discriminates and alienates another on the basis on their sexuality. It’s pretty dumb isn’t it! We’ve come so far as a country regarding other ‘isms’ or forms of discrimination that it seems crazy for our attitudes towards sexually to still be so archaic.
How Does Homophobia Manifest?
It seems a big part of the problem is ignorance from the vast majority that we are actually causing any offence. I will admit that it’s only as a result of my partner condemning my use of the word ‘gay’ to describe something negative that I’ve been made explicitly aware of the fact that a) I’m making myself look uneducated and b) I may actually be unintentionally offending another person.
So in order for us to deal with the issue on a societal level, we need to understand the ways homophobia manifests:
- Internalised or Personal Homophobia – this is when the belief that homosexuality is sinful or immoral is not expressed. It seems to stem from the assumption that heterosexuality is normal therefore anything thats not hetero is abnormal. This may be a difficult attitude to change because this mindset is a product of the environment one has been conditioned in. Prior to a homosexual person eventually recognising and becoming comfortable with their own sexuality, internalised homophobia can actually exist towards oneself. This can be a particularly damaging dilemma for that individual.
- Interpersonal Homophobia – this is the most obvious form of homophobia where an individual’s negative sexual view is expressed openly or directly toward a homosexual individual. It can start at low-level name-calling or jibing but can extend to physical violence and assault.
- Institutional Homophobia – this is the discrimination that occurs against homosexuals by ‘bodies’ such as government, churches and businesses on the basis of sexuality. The most obvious of these has been debated openly in parliament and that is the prevention of homosexual persons from legally entering into marriage. Other forms would include religion labelling homosexuality as sinful or a business not hiring a gay individual on the basis of sexuality even whereby they were the best candidate.
- Cultural Homophobia – is less obvious to the majority of us because, well, we are the majority. Take a look at most television shows, advertisements or sporting events and there is a clear inference of heterosexuality be the social norm. Again, this is perhaps a difficult stigma to change because it happens almost as an indirect consequence of the fact that these communication mediums need to attract maximum viewership therefore are reflective of the majority. By default, homosexuals are left feeling like outsiders.
But Why Is My Attitude Of Any Concern?
Let me ask you a few questions:
- Do you consider racism to be acceptable? Would you think it fair if we went back to the days of Indigenous people not begin allowed to vote?
- Do you consider sexism to be acceptable? Would you be happy if your wife or girlfriend was sacked because she could not fit into a predominantly male-dominated workplace?
- Do you consider ableism to be acceptable? Would it sit ok with you if we did away with all welfare for the disabled on the basis that ‘they just need to learn to fend for themselves?’
- Do you consider ageism to be acceptable? How would you feel if your dad took his life at 55 years old because he felt helpless in not being able to get a job because he was too old?
A little melodramatic you query? Well put yourself into the shoes of a homosexual individual or their family when equivalent doses of discrimination or marginalisation on the basis of their ‘gayness’ are dished out to them on a regular basis. Let me illustrate with a few stats from a study of 390 homosexual bisexual and transgender Victorians conducted in 2008:
- 14% felt that they were living in fear of homophobic violence;
- 85% had experienced homophobic violence or harassment at some point in their lives;
- 5% had been sexually assaulted in the proceeding two years
Further studies out of the US illustrate the pervasive nature of such harassment extending into the workplace . The findings indicate:
- Between 15 and 43% of gay and transgender workers have experienced some form of discrimination on the job.
- Between 8 and 17% being passed over for a job or fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Between 10 and 28% received a negative performance evaluation or were passed over for a promotion because they were gay or transgender.
- Between 7 and 41% of gay and transgender workers were verbally or physically abused or had their workplace vandalized.
Ok, So That’s Not Good, But Is It That Big Of A Health Issue?
The uncertainly and stigmatisation associated with coming out leads to some serious health outcomes AND THIS IS WHY YOU AS ANOTHER HUMAN SHOULD CARE. Homosexual persons have much higher rates of negative-health indicators including smoking, obesity, psychological disorders, unsafe drug and alcohol use and rates of self-harm than heterosexual people.
This can only be to do with the continuous pressure and anxiety associated with hiding away or dealing with their sexuality and the complications they face.
Homophobia Is Surely Not A Problem In Australia
Things have certainly improved over the last three to five decades for homosexual people and as with all types of discrimination, change is a slow-moving evolution toward hopeful and eventual equality.
The Pew Research Centre (http://www.pewglobal.org) recently released the findings of a series of surveys conducted across 39 countries which delivered some interesting results on attitudes towards homosexuality on a global perspective. As we would expect, the more affluent and secular countries are the ones with more accepting views toward sexual diversity. This includes much of North America, Latin America and countries of the European Union such as Spain and Germany.
In complete contrast, the two prominent indicators of countries with low acceptance of homosexuality were being less affluent such as the African countries or being predominantly Muslim such as the Middle East nations.
Australia’s overall attitude is equivalent to that of our Canadian brothers. Yet while Canada legalised gay marriage in 2005, it remains unrecognised in Australia at the current moment. Even bloody tiny, little New Zealand has recognised that it’s time, legalising gay marriage in 2013.
Do you guys find it embarrassing that 18 countries to date have recognised the need for equal rights, yet even with clear support from the majority of Australians, Australia has not? I personally do…
Countries That Allow Gay Marriage
- Argentina (2010)
- Belgium (2003)
- Brazil (2013)
- Canada (2005)
- Denmark (2012)
- England / Wales (2013)
- France (2013)
- Iceland (2010)
- Luxembourg (2014)
- New Zealand (2013)
- Norway (2009)
- Portugal (2010)
- Scotland (2014)
- South Africa (2006)
- Spain (2005)
- Sweden (2009)
- The Netherlands (2000)
- Uruguay (2013)
Countries Where Gay Marriage is Legal in Some Jurisdictions
- Mexico (2009)
- United States (2003)
Just My Opinion (In Case You Want It)
My thought process is as such – do we not have enough to be concerned about in the world as it is today without putting barriers up that defy love? When I see the terrible grief that comes out of acts of hatred or terror like that of the recent Malaysian flight MH17, I am reminded how lucky we are in Australia (and other Westernised countries) to live in freedom and relative peace. A place where the likelihood of such acts directly affecting us are minimal. This is why the grief is so extreme in this case; due to it’s rarity.
So with the above in mind, should’t we open ourselves up to love and be happy when others find it, in any form? And should we not embrace that connection and be free to recognise it anyway we wish?
I guess when it comes to all phobias, shedding light on the dark space of ignorance is the first step. Only once you become aware that you may indeed be hurting another person with your criticisms, might you feel the need to change your attitudes and behaviours. If we as a community and as men, can decide that homophobia has a finite ending, we can play a part in helping another man toward better overall physical and mental health.
As a call to all my heterosexual brothers, I ask you to consider how this discrimination can exist in the modern age and stand up for extinguishing it. And let’s hope that within a few years, we will be looking back on homophobia and sexual discrimination as something we quashed as a result of our standing up for what is right.
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