Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

What Are the Roots of Homophobia?

John McNeese made the following comment in my previous post, Theology and Same-Gender Relationships. John wrote:

There has to be a better way to discuss sex. As you can probably tell, I’m hostile to these kinds of conversations. I would much prefer discussing the roots of homophobia.

At Shuck and Jive, we aim to please.

So what are the roots of homophobia? Why is it that in 2008, the church and our culture still do not grant equality of church membership and citizenship to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people?

In setting out to answer those questions, I came across a couple of resources that seemed to make sense. The first is a New York Times article from 1990: Studies Discover Clues to the Roots of Homophobia. It includes this paragraph:


In studying the virulence and tenacity of anti-gay feelings, psychologists are finding clues to the deeper sources of homophobia. The new findings confirm the theory that some men use hostility and violence to homosexuals to reassure themselves about their own sexuality. But the greatest portion of anti-homosexual bias, psychologists now say, arises from a combination of fear and self-righteousness in which homosexuals are perceived as contemptible threats to the moral universe.
I found this particularly revealing:

Bob Altemeyer, a psychologist at the University of Manitoba who has developed a scale measuring attitudes toward homosexuals, has found that those with the most intense hostility have an extreme fear that the world is an unsafe place and that society is at risk, and a self-righteousness that leads them to judge those who hold different values as morally inferior.

"They see homosexuality as a sign that society is disintegrating and as a threat to their sense of morality," said Dr. Altemeyer. "Their self-righteousness makes them feel they are acting morally when they attack homosexuals. It overcomes the normal inhibitions against aggression."

Dr. Altemeyer tells his students that he is gay. "For most, over the course of the year it makes their attitudes toward gays more positive, he says. But if their hostility toward gays is based on religion, their views are hardest to change." (italics and bold mine)

This is from PBS' Frontline special: Assault on Gay America: The Life and Death of Billy Jack Gaither. You will find good information regarding The Roots of Homophobia. In addition to fear and self-righteousness, we also find homophobia rooted in...

Enforcement of Gender Norms:


Thus, heterosexism is not just a personal value system, it is a tool in the maintenance of gender dichotomy. In other words, through heterosexism, any male who refuses to accept the dominant culture's assignment of appropriate masculine behavior is labeled early on as a "sissy" or "fag" and then subjected to bullying. Similarly, any woman who opposes male dominance and control can be labeled a lesbian and attacked. The potential of being ostracized as homosexual, regardless of actual sexual attractions and behaviors, puts pressure on all people to conform to a narrow standard of appropriate gender behavior, thereby maintaining and reinforcing our society's hierarchical gender structure.

The Frontline program also provided an overview of scientific studies in relation to homophobia.
These studies have found that persons with negative attitudes:

1. are less likely to have had personal contact with lesbians or gays;

2. are less likely to report having engaged in homosexual behaviors, or to identify themselves as lesbian or gay;

3. are more likely to perceive their peers as manifesting negative attitudes, especially if the respondents are males;

4. are more likely to have resided in areas where negative attitudes are the norm (e.g., the midwestern and southern United States, the Canadian prairies, and in rural areas or small towns), especially during adolescence;

5. are likely to be older and less well educated;

6. are more likely to be religious, to attend church frequently, and to subscribe to a conservative religious ideology;

7. are more likely to express traditional, restrictive attitudes about sex roles;

8. are less permissive sexually or manifest more guilt or negativity about sexuality, although some researchers have not observed this pattern and others have reported a substantially reduced correlation with the effects of sex-role attitudes partialled out;

9. are more likely to manifest high levels of authoritarianism and related personality characteristics.

Sex differences in the direction and intensity of attitudes have been observed fairly consistently. It appears that heterosexuals tend to have more negative attitudes toward homosexuals of their own sex than of the opposite sex. . . .

I also found this article quite interesting regarding the church and homophobia, The Roots of Homophobia, by Terry Boughner.

In addition to the poll on Theology and Same-Gender Relationships, let's get to the heart of the matter. I have two polls:

  1. What Are the Roots of Homophobia? and
  2. Why Do We Deny Equal Rights, Privileges and Protections to Sexual and Gender Minorities?

Before you take the polls on the sidebar, you might want to take this poll to see how homophobic you are.

And now, the polls. Vote for the one best answer and comment here!

What Are the Roots of Homophobia?

  1. By hating gays people can reassure themselves they are not gay.
  2. Hating lesbians and gay men is seen as a litmus test for being a moral person.
  3. Heterosexism enforces gender norms.

Why Do We Deny Sexual and Gender Minorities Equality of Church Membership and Citizenship?

  1. Not enough people care about rights for minorities unless it affects them.
  2. The church provides false information about God's will.
  3. The church rewards homophobia as a sign of righteousness.
  4. Too many people think this is about sex not citizenship.
  5. People who know better are unwilling to speak out.
  6. Homophobia is a money-maker for the right wing.
  7. Not enough people have gay and lesbian friends.
  8. Homophobia is a culturally acceptable prejudice.

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