EFFECTS OF HOMOPHOBIA ON HETEROSEXUALS

Homophobia has various effects on heterosexuals. For instance, it means that heterosexuals do not internalise a stigmatised identity in relation to their sexual orientation - although they may belong to other stigmatised groups. This means that they have fewer obstacles to overcome during the developmental processes of adolescence i.e. achievement of identity, self-esteem, and social skills (Erikson, 1963, cited in Zera, 1992). It means that heterosexuals develop a feeling of superiority towards homosexuals and that heterosexuals have a stronger self-identity and higher self esteem. In turn this means that heterosexual youth will be less vulnerable to emotional ill health (depression, suicide), alcohol or drug abuse.

Homophobia means that many people (heterosexuals and homosexuals) are obsessed with proving they are heterosexual. They do this through exaggerated stereotyped female/male role playing, i.e. being macho/femme; and an obsesssion with heterosexual sex which leads to rape, sexual abuse, phobias about sex, promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancies, early marriages and high rates of divorce, etc. Sex is addictive (West,1983) and some people, because of poor self-esteem and weak identity, use sex as a coping method (i.e. to shore up their identity).

Homophobia also affects peoples' attitudes towards homosexuals and homosexuality. There has been little research in Britain concerning attitudes towards homosexuals and homosexuality but substantial research has been conducted in the U.S.A.

Herek (1984) discovered some broad patterns among people who hold negative views: they had less personal contact with lesbians and gays, less (if any) homosexual behaviour, conservative religious ideology and they held traditional attitudes about sex roles. Those with more negative attitudes were more likely to have grown up in rural areas and small towns, to be older, and less well-educated.

Studies have questioned whether male and female attitudes differ. Many suggest that men are more homophobic than women and have worse attitudes towards gay men than towards lesbians (Larsen, Reed, & Hoffman, 1980; Young & Whertvine, 1982; Hong, 1983; Aguero, Bloch, & Byrne, 1984; Coles & Stokes, 1985; Braungart & Braungart, 1988;; Clift, 1988; Schatman, 1989). Some have found, for example, that female guidance counsellors were more homophobic than their male counterparts (Sears, 1992); whilst opinion polls report no differences between the sexes. (Irwin & Thompson, 1977, Schneider & Lewis, 1984. Other studies suggest that men have worse feelings about gay men than lesbians and that women have worse feelings about lesbians than gay men. (Laner & Laner). This latter point certainly has serious implications for lesbians when we consider that most 'caring' professionals, e.g. counsellors, nurses, social workers, are female.

Muller (1987) found many examples of parents, in particular mothers, being far more accepting and supporting of their gay sons than their lesbian daughters. For example, she found that the most positive partent-son factor was 30% more positive than the most positive aprent6-daughter factor whilst, at the other end of the scale, the most negative parent-daughter factor was 16% more negative than the most negative parent-son factor. Muller also noted that that those daughters who had been younger than twenty-two made up the most negative parent-child relationship groups.

The British Social Attitudes survey of 1992 found that 58% of adults believed that sex between adults of the same sex was wrong.

There has been substantial research in the USA which has found that social workers hold homophobic views (Berger, 1977, Hall, 1978, Tully & Albro, 1979, Potter & Darty, 1981, Gramick, 1983, Wisniewski & Toomey, 1987, Newman, 1989). Indeed, de Crescenzo and McGill (1978) found that social workers hold more homophobic attitudes than either psychiatrists or psychologists. Whilst we have yet to pursue this level of research in Britain, one or two articles have appeared in the social work press which suggest that the situation is the same here (Sone, 1993, Hancox, 1993).

American researchers have also carried out surveys in relation to homophbia and educationalists (Sears, 1988, Geller, 1990, Sears, 1991, Norris, 1992). Again, there has not been any comparable research in Britain, and Clift (1988) notes: "Beyond the work of gay activists, the studies of Trenchard & Warren and the political debates over left-wing council policies, however, serious research on lesbian and gay issues in education is non-existent." Clift refers to a 1986 Times Education Supplement/MORI poll of teachers' attitudes which found that 34% of teachers of 11-16 year olds rejected the idea that homosexuality should be presented in school as an acceptable way of living (31% had no opinion); 92% did not consider homosexuality a suitable issue to discuss with junio children, although 58% thought it should be introducted between 12 and 14 years. Clift found, in his study of 80 first-year students that men were significantly less

A survey of clinical medical students in 1993 found that only one in two thought that homosexuality could form part of an acceptable lifestyle. ("Homosexuality and Mental Health Services," British Medical Journal, 1994, cited in Sexuality and the State, Liberty, 1994).

One survey found that 29% of the heterosexual undergraduate students felt that university would be a better place without lesbian and gay students; nearly half of the study group called same-sex behaviour 'wrong.' (D'Augelli, 1993).

Research suggests that nurses tend to possess conservative attitudes about homosexuality (Webb & Askham, 1987) and that nurses are particularly intolerant of lesbians and gay men (Jones, 1988, both cited in Irwin, 1992).

Individual Heterosexism

Unless individuals have challenged their homophobia (and most haven't), their attitudes will affect their actions; their homophobic beliefs will turn into heterosexist actions (discrimination). Individual heterosexism can find expression in verbal, physical or sexual abuse, whilst those people in positions of power, e.g. teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, youth workers, M.P.s, the police, parents, employers, etc., knowingly or unknowlingly, use their positions to discriminate against homosexuals. Homophobia, an individual's internal fear and hatred of homosexuals, becomes heterosexism, an external act of discrimination. Take the following as a few examples:-

"One student nurse described how a lecturer presented homosexuality as a perversion akin to bestiality and sado-masochism and treated it as a joke; his views were difficult to challenge. When the student did challenge him, the lecturer played on the prejudice of others in the class, humiliating the student and finally telling the student to leave the class." (Rose & Platzer, 1989).

A significant minority of nurses say that they would refuse to care for a patient who is homosexual (Platzer, 1993).

When news that scientific research had found that homosexuality is a genetic predisposition and that a test may soon be available to discover whether a foetus is predisposed to homosexuality, Lord Jakobovits - ex chief rabbi - recommended that Jews should have the test and abort the foetus if it is homosexual.

The British Muslim leader, Dr Kalim Siddique, has called for homosexuals to be eliminated.

A recent Stonewall (1993) survey of 1,845 lesbian gay and bisexual respondents in Britain found that 48% had experienced harassment at work because they were known or suspected of being lesbian or gay. This took the form of phycial violence, threats, aggressive questions, homophobic abuse, jokes or teasing.

Staff at Ashworth Special Hospital forced one patient to wear a placard bearing the word "homo." (Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Complaints about Ashworth Hospital, Vol 1, 1992, HMSO, p151. Cited in Sexuality and the State, Liberty, 1994).

An Appeal Court judge commented, in regard to a lesbian custody case, that her lifestyle was "abnormal" and that it was "simple commonsense to say that the children ought to have a more normal life, in a more normal family amongst less vehemently minded people." (W v W unreported Court of Appeal 17 June 1980, cited in Sexuality and the State, Liberty, 1994).

In March 1993 a Chief Superintendent in the Metropolitan Police described a group of women delegates at a police training college domestic violence conference as "a bunch of lezzies. There was not a normal one amongst them." (Cited in Sexuality and the State, Liberty, 1994).

In early 1994 a University lecturer distributed literature that linked homosexuality with child abuse and bestiality. (Cited in Sexuality and the State, Liberty, 1994).

"...under no circumstances ought homosexuality to be regarded as anything other than a destructive habit system." G.P. (British Medical Journal News Review, 19th November 1993, cited in Sexuality and the State, Liberty, 1994).

In December 1987 a local authority Conservative leader stated, after watching a film on safe sex: "The film said how to avoid AIDS, but it did not say specifically stop being queer. It's disgusting and diabolical. As a cure I would put 90 per cent of them in the ruddy gas chamber. Are we going to keep letting these queers trade their filth up and down the country?" Wolverhampton Express and Star, "Shoot all gays says councillor", 17th December 1987 (cited in Sexuality and the State, Liberty, 1994).

Monday, 10th January 1994, BBC early evening news, Valerie Riches, Family & Youth Concern, said: "Heterosexual activity, even amongst 16-year-olds, is at least a normal activity. Homosexual activity is not normal, it is unnatural."

Again on the same day, on BBC television, Lord Hailsham said "I think it [homosexuality] is a corrupt and corrupting vice."

© Jan Bridget 1996