People who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual may experience harassment or discrimination from people who are scared of or uncomfortable with these identities.
What are homophobia and sexual orientation discrimination?
The homophobia definition is the fear, hatred, discomfort with, or mistrust of people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Biphobia is fear, hatred, discomfort, or mistrust, specifically of people who are bisexual. Similarly, transphobia is fear, hatred, discomfort with, or mistrust of people who are transgender, genderqueer, or don’t follow traditional gender norms.
Although transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia are similar, they’re not the same thing. Both gay and straight people can be transphobic and biphobic, and people can be transphobic without being homophobic or biphobic.
Homophobia can take many different forms, including negative attitudes and beliefs about, aversion to, or prejudice against bisexual, lesbian, and gay people. It’s often based in irrational fear and misunderstanding. Some people’s homophobia may be rooted in conservative religious beliefs. People may hold homophobic beliefs if they were taught them by parents and families.
Homophobic people may use mean language and name-calling when they talk about lesbian and gay people. Biphobic people may tell bisexual people that it’s “just for attention,” or that they’re inherently cheaters. In its most extreme forms, homophobia and biphobia can cause people to bully, abuse, and inflict violence on lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.
Some LGBTQ people experience discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This may be discrimination from religious institutions, companies, or from our government. Examples include same-sex couples not being allowed to marry, getting legally fired just for being LGBTQ, or not being allowed into certain housing.
LGBTQ people and their allies have fought for equal rights and continue to do so, especially concerning marriage, employment, housing and health care equality, and protection from hate crimes (violence against LGBTQ people because of who they are).
What is internalized homophobia?
Internalized homophobia refers to people who are homophobic while also experiencing same-sex attraction themselves. Sometimes, people may have negative attitudes and beliefs about those who experience same-sex attraction, and then turn the negative beliefs in on themselves rather than come to terms with their own desires. This may mean that they feel discomfort and disapproval with their own same-sex attractions, never accept their same-sex attractions, or never identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
People dealing with internalized homophobia may feel the need to “prove” that they’re straight, exhibit very stereotypical behavior of straight men and women, or even bully and discriminate against openly gay people.
What is outing?
Outing is the act of revealing someone else’s sexual orientation without their permission. If you share information about someone’s sexual orientation against their wishes, you risk affecting their lives very negatively by making them feel embarrassed, upset, and vulnerable.
You may also put them at risk for discrimination and violence. If someone shares their orientation with you, remember that this is very personal information and it’s an honor that they trusted you enough to tell you. Always ask them what you’re allowed to share with others and respect their wishes.
Where can I get support if I’m dealing with homophobia?
People who experience homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic harassment often feel alone and are afraid to tell anyone what’s happening. You should never have to face harassment.
You can get support from:
- Other LGBTQ people
- Your local LGBTQ community center
- Online communities of LGBTQ people
- Q Chat Space is a way for LGBTQ+ teens to connect with each other through live-chat group discussions — no matter where they are
- Trusted LGBTQ adults that you may already know, such as family members or teachers
- Straight people who are allies to LGBTQ people
- A Gay/Straight Alliance at your high school, if applicable.
- LGBTQ organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), The Trevor Project, and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
Not everyone lives in a place that has a Gay/Straight Alliance in their high school, or an LGBTQ community center. In this situation, the Internet is super useful in finding communities and support in dealing with homophobia and discrimination.
If you’re a young person who’s experiencing harassment in school, it’s important to tell someone, even if that seems scary. If you don’t seek help and just accept it, the harassment will probably continue, or maybe even get worse over time. This can make it hard to keep up with grades, activities, and school in general.
Some schools may have an anti-bullying and harassment policy, and some states have adopted a Safe Schools Law, which means that your school administrators are legally required to stop the harassment. If possible, find a trusted teacher or adult who is an ally to LGBTQ students and ask for their help.
If you’re a young person experiencing homophobia and it’s causing you to feel depressed or suicidal, the Trevor Project can help.
What can I do to help stop homophobia?
No one has the right to discriminate against or bully another person, or to hurt them emotionally or physically. There are several things you can do to help stop homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia:
- Don’t ever use negative or offensive language to describe LGBTQ people.
- Be careful of how even casual language — such as saying “that’s so gay”— can hurt others.
- Don’t believe stereotypes about LGBTQ people or make assumptions about them.
- Be a vocal supporter of the LGBTQ community, regardless of your own sexual orientation and identity. This is called being an ally.
- Let the LGBTQ people in your life know that you’re a friend and ally.
- Educate yourself on LGBTQ issues.
- Respect LGBTQ people’s decisions about when and where to come out.
- Join your school’s Gay/Straight Alliance, or start one at your school. GLSEN can help with that.
- Remember that being LGBTQ is just one part of a person’s complex identity and life.
- Show as much interest in your LGBTQ friends’ or family members’ partners as you would show in a straight person’s partner.
- If you feel safe doing so, speak up when other people are being homophobic or biphobic, such as making offensive jokes, using negative language, or bullying or harassing someone because of their sexual orientation or identity.
When addressing homophobia in others:
- Decide if it’s safe to address the issue. Some things to consider: Will you be confronting a stranger in public? Or a friend or family member in private? Do you want to speak up now or save it for later, when you’re alone with the person? Would it be safest for you leave it alone and walk away?
- Ask questions and stay calm. Often, people don’t know that the language they’re using is insensitive. Avoid insulting them and tell them why you find their words offensive.