A look at the term ‘homophobia’, its origin and meanings, and its uses in the campaign to forward the homosexual agenda, particularly in schools. The writer wishes to state at the outset that he finds taunts like ‘faggot’, ‘queer’ and ‘poofter’ totally unacceptable and can see no justification whatever in so-called gay-bashing, verbal or physical.
“You’re a homophobe!”
In today’s dominating climate of political correctness, that label is heard increasingly often, along with the related terms homophobia and homophobic. But what is homophobia? Who uses the term and why? Little has been written on it from any but the gay rights perspective. Some diversity of opinion is overdue.
The first use of the word homophobia is credited to George Weinberg who coined the term in the late 1960s, later discussing it at length in a book in 1972. The first use in print, however, was by activists Jack Nichols and Lige Clarke in their May 23rd column in Screw magazine, 1969. 1
Byrne Fone in Homophobia: A History defines it as “Antipathy to [homosexuals] – and condemnation, loathing, fear, and proscription of homosexual behavior..”2 David Plummer spends the first ten pages of One of the Boys:Masculinity, Homophobia, and Modern Manhood 3 explaining why he is not comfortable with the term homophobia, seeming to prefer anti-homosexual bias. When pressed in person for a definition he responded “Homophobia is present whenever you hear ‘faggot’ or ‘poofter’ being used.” 4
Perhaps the leading researcher and writer on homophobia from a gay perspective is Greg Herek, and he clearly expresses his reservations about homophobia, preferring the term sexual prejudice:
Sexual prejudice refers to negative attitudes toward an individual because of her or his sexual orientation. In this article, it is used to characterize heterosexuals’ negative attitudes toward (a) homosexual behavior; (b) people with a homosexual or bisexual orientation; and (c) communities of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. Sexual prejudice is a preferable term to homophobia because it conveys no assumptions about the motivations underlying negative attitudes, locates the study of attitudes concerning sexual orientation within the broader context of social psychological research on prejudice, and avoids value judgments about such attitudes. 5
For different reasons homophobia has been condemned, as inaccurate and not always appropriate for the purpose by gay writers and activists, and as a deliberately misleading and sinister smear by those opposed to the gay agenda. Thoughtful writers on both sides agree that the word rarely if ever means a debilitating irrational fearfulness of homosexuals or homosexuality, a meaning strictly required by psychiatric nomenclature. Probably for those very reasons, its broadness and its guilt-inducing and mental illness connotations, the word has served, and continues to serve, a most useful political purpose and despite its limitations is not likely to be abandoned any time soon.
Indeed, in an ironic reversal which once saw homosexuals as suffering from a psychiatric illness, homosexuality has been eliminated as a psychiatric classification (since 1973) and homophobia is increasingly being portrayed as a debilitating and dangerous disorder, amenable to and in need of treatment. Most people are said to suffer from it, even homosexuals, who have picked up society’s disapproval of homosexuality and internalised it. This is referred to as internalised homophobia, a treatable disorder said to be responsible for a wide range of pathologies and dysfunction among homosexuals, including suicide, excessive alcohol and drug taking, depression, unsafe sex leading to HIV, inappropriate marriages and poor performance at school.
Now psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, when faced with a homosexual unhappy over his homosexuality, are directed to deal with the internalised homophobia and under no circumstances are to assist the client towards a heterosexual orientation. That would be simply further intensifying the self-hatred he has picked up from society. At no point are these professionals allowed to entertain the idea that the client may wish to become heterosexual and his stated dissatisfaction with homosexuality be taken at face value.
Any discussion of homophobia is limited unless it is seen in a context of allied terms, all with varying degrees of overlap e.g. discrimination, bigotry, anti-homosexual prejudice, heterosexism, heteronormativity, oppression, homohatred, sexuality victimisation, and homonegativity. Often these terms are used interchangeably in the literature.
Terms that indicate a countering of homophobia include affirming diversity, inclusiveness, and homopositivity. More recently, phrases like Making schools/workplaces safe for all sexual orientations are code for instituting anti-homophobia workshops and pro-homosexual programmes.
Almost all users of homophobia are writing from a gay, queer theorist, feminist or liberal perspective – or a combination of these. Some conservative commentators argue that homophobia and related terms are a key part in an agenda to depict homosexuality as an equally valid and healthy option to heterosexuality. They see anti-homophobia campaigns as a continuation of the access AIDS first gave gay activists to the schools:
Pro-homosexual advocates gained access to the schools in the late 1980’s by capitalizing on fear about AIDS – and have increasingly been using the public schools as a forum to educate children to accept the normalization of homosexual conduct, same-sex marriage and parenting, and to promote civil-rights status based on homosexual conduct…. Those who disagree with any objective of homosexual advocates – or simply think it wrong to use other people’s children to engage in social or political indoctrination – are perilously close to losing the right to even voice their concerns on this issue. All opposition to homosexuality or homosexual political objectives is routinely viewed now as “homophobia,” and many would designate all such speech “hate crime.” 6
The words ‘safe’ and ‘safety’ are key components in the drive to challenge homophobia, especially in schools. Kevin Jennings, founder of the US-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) noted in 1995 that capturing the language virtually captures the debate. Not wishing to be blind-sided the way the abortion lobby was by its opponents’ calling themselves ‘pro-life’, he explains:
We immediately seized upon the opponent’s calling card – safety – and explained how homophobia represents a threat to students’ safety creating a climate where violence, name-calling, health problems, and suicide are common. Titling our report, ‘Making Schools Safe for Gay and Lesbian Youth,’ we automatically threw our opponents onto the defensive and stole their best line of attack. This framing short-circuited their arguments and left them back-pedaling from day one.
Finding the effective frame for your community is the key to victory. It must be linked to universal values that everyone in the community has in common. In Massachusetts, no one could speak up against our frame and say, ‘Why, yes, I do think students should kill themselves’; this allowed us to set the terms for the debate.7
The first major enunciation of a plan to fight homophobia came in 1987 with an article in a homosexual magazine, by Marshall Kirk and Erastes Pill, “The Overhauling of Straight America”.8 Reading through the web-available document the reader can judge for himself how closely it has been followed and how successful this incredibly candid blueprint for a homosexual revolution has been over the past 14 years. Some key excerpts
The first order of business is desensitization of the American public concerning gays and gay rights. To desensitize the public is to help it view homosexuality with indifference instead of with keen emotion… A large-scale media campaign will be required in order to change the image of gays in America….
Talk about gays and gayness as loudly and as often as possible. The principle behind this advice is simple: almost any behavior begins to look normal if you are exposed to enough of it at close quarters and among your acquaintances… the imagery of sex should be downplayed and gay rights should be reduced to an abstract social question as much as possible… If gays are presented, instead, as a strong and prideful tribe promoting a rigidly nonconformist and deviant lifestyle, they are more likely to be seen as a public menace that justifies resistance and oppression. For that reason, we must forego the temptation to strut our “gay pride” publicly when it conflicts with the Gay Victim image…..
In admonishing gays against ‘in your face’ sexuality Kirk and Pill have been less than persuasive with their fellow-activists – although reportedly this year’s Auckland Hero Parade was less raunchy than usual, with one bisexual dominatrix float “whipped off” to maintain propriety. 9
While public opinion is one primary source of mainstream values, religious authority is the other. When conservative churches condemn gays, there are only two things we can do to confound the homophobia of true believers. First, we can use talk to muddy the moral waters. This means publicizing support for gays by more moderate churches, raising theological objections of our own about conservative interpretations of biblical teachings, and exposing hatred and inconsistency. Second, we can undermine the moral authority of homophobic churches by portraying them as antiquated backwaters, badly out of step with the times and with the latest findings of psychology….
In any campaign to win over the public, gays must be cast as victims in need of protection so that straights will be inclined by reflex to assume the role of protector… First, the mainstream should be told that gays are victims of fate, in the sense that most never had a choice to accept or reject their sexual preference. The message must read: “As far as gays can tell, they were born gay, just as you were born heterosexual or white or black or bright or athletic. Nobody ever tricked or seduced them; they never made a choice, and are not morally blameworthy”… The second message would portray gays as victims of society. The straight majority does not recognize the suffering it brings to the lives of gays and must be shown: graphic pictures of brutalized gays; dramatizations of job and housing insecurity, loss of child custody, and public humiliation: and the dismal list goes on…..
Give protectors a just cause. A media campaign that casts gays as society’s victims and encourages straights to be their protectors must make it easier for those to respond to assert and explain their new protectiveness. Few straight women, and even fewer straight men, will want to defend homosexuality boldly as such…Our campaign should not demand direct support for homosexual practices, should instead take anti-discrimination as its theme. The right to free speech, freedom of beliefs, freedom of association, due process and equal protection of laws – these should be the concerns brought to mind by our campaign.
These rights and anti-discrimination issues were certainly very much in the minds of the NZ Law Commission in its recent Report where it dealt with homosexual adoption of children. Continuing, Kirk and Pill advocate short clips such as this description to elicit sympathy and support:
The camera slowly moves in on a middle-class teenager, sitting alone in his semi-darkened bedroom. The boy is pleasing and unexceptional in appearance, except that he has been roughed up and is staring silently, pensively, with evident distress. As the camera gradually focuses in on his face, a narrator comments: It will happen to one in every ten sons. As he grows up he will realize that he feels differently about things than most of his friends. If he lets it show, he’ll be an outsider made fun of, humiliated, attacked. If he confides in his parents, they may throw him out of the house, onto the streets…
[This] would economically portray gays as innocent and vulnerable, victimized and misunderstood, surprisingly numerous yet not menacing…. Make the victimizers look bad. At a later stage of the media campaign for gay rights [ ] it will be time to get tough with remaining opponents. To be blunt, they must be vilified…. Our goal here is twofold. First, we seek to replace the mainstream’s self-righteous pride about its homophobia with shame and guilt. Second, we intend to make the antigays look so nasty that average Americans will want to dissociate themselves from such types.
But not everyone has bought into the shame and guilt that are intended to be part of the ‘homophobia package’. Earlier this year U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas 10 made a plea for courage, for standing up and saying what needs to be said in public debate on important questions. He noted that the obstacles and disincentives are many.
It became clear in rather short order that on the very difficult issues such as race there was no real debate or honest discussion. Those who raised questions that suggested doubt about popular policies were subjected to intimidation. Debate was not permitted. Orthodoxy was enforced. When whites questioned the conventional wisdom on these issues, it was considered bad form; when blacks did so, it was treason.
On the difficult question of homosexuality there is probably even less debate or honest discussion. Those who raise policy questions on HIV/AIDS and related health matters, on the inclusion of homosexuality in the school curriculum, on the use of the Human Rights Act and other legislation to regard sexual orientation as a protected category are silenced. Debate is not encouraged. The new orthodoxy is enforced. When heterosexuals question the conventional wisdom, it is homophobia. When occasionally some homosexuals do, it is considered self-hatred, internalised homophobia. Thomas again:
A good argument diluted to avoid criticism is not nearly as good as the undiluted argument, because we best arrive at truth through a process of honest and vigorous debate. Arguments should not sneak around in disguise, as if dissent were somehow sinister. One should not cowed by criticism…. by yielding to a false form of “civility,” we sometimes allow our critics to intimidate us. As I have said, active citizens are often subjected to truly vile attacks; they are branded as mean-spirited, racist, Uncle Tom, homophobic, sexist, etc. To this we often respond (if not succumb), so as not to be constantly fighting, by trying to be tolerant and nonjudgmental—i.e., we censor ourselves. This is not civility. It is cowardice, or well-intentioned self-deception at best.
What else might explain our reticence, our unwillingness in open forum to call it as we see it? He agrees with an earlier writer:
Honesty on questions of race is rare in the United States. So many and unrecognized have been the injustices committed against blacks that no one wishes to be unkind, or subject himself to intimidating charges. Hence, even simple truths are commonly evaded.
Thomas himself adds:
This insight applies with equal force to very many conversations of consequence today. Who wants to be denounced as a heartless monster? On important matters, crucial matters, silence is enforced.
Similarly, it must be admitted that so many and unrecognised injustices have been committed against homosexuals that no one wishes to be unkind, or subject himself to the intimidating charge of homophobia. Again, silence is enforced. Kirk and Madsen made this very point many years earlier – that homosexual tactics must play on the straight fear of being mistakenly taken for a bigot.11
While homophobia was of some concern in the United States a decade ago and considerable efforts were being made to combat it, in this country it was hardly mentioned and then mainly by community organisations with a strong feminist inclination, such as Women’s Refuge 12 and the Family Planning Association. Officially, there was little if any homophobia.
For example, in 1990 the then NZ Department of Health published Adolescent Sexuality: The Report of the Taskforce on Adolescent Sexuality. 13. In its 80-odd pages there is no mention of homophobia or any similar term. Instead, apart from a short gay and lesbian perspective in the Appendix, the report is almost entirely concerned with STDs, pregnancy, Maori and Polynesians perspectives, abortion and contraception, and male aggression and power inequalities. Verbal and physical abuse are discussed but entirely within the context of traditional playground bullying and the use of terms that demean and devalue females. In short, the report’s gender concerns are a fair reflection of the preoccupations of political correctness at that time in New Zealand, males as oppressors and females as victims, all within a heterosexual context.
Now, ten years later, ‘homophobia’ is finally official – as exemplified in the Ministry of Education’s Health and Physical Education in the New Zealand Curriculum for secondary students:
Students will demonstrate an understanding of how attitudes and values relating to difference influence their own safety and that of other people, for example, through considering bullying, harassment, racism, sexism, homophobia, and rape and in relation to physical activity and sports choices. 14
That is significant as well for the way in which homophobia is linked very clearly to the other oppressions. Kirk and Madsen regarded this as an undesirable tactic – but as the last decade has shown, this is one of their pleas that was ignored. They branded as bad advice the exhortation by another writer:
Show throughout [public debates on gay rights] that you identify with all those who are persecuted unjustly, that you advocate rights for all human beings, not just homosexuals. Talk about racism, sexism, militarism, poverty, and all the conditions that oppress the unempowered. A victory for any oppressed group is a victory for all.15
Those who are given to finding homophobia everywhere share with those who are preoccupied with racism and sexism a belief that a multitude of people are among the oppressed, that the homophobia constitutes the oppression, and that they are further linked in their victimhood since the oppressor is often simultaneously sexist, racist and homophobic. Educators running anti-homophobia workshops are sometimes advised to make explicit the connections between racism and homophobia, and sexism and homophobia. 16 17
David Horowitz explains how oppression is viewed through the radical activist lens:
Oppressor and oppressed, victimizer and victim – these dichotomies are indispensable categories of radical thought. The radical world-view divides humanity into the oppressed who suffer as the objects of the historical process and the oppressors who inflict the process on everyone else. Power is always an alien force. For the traditional Marxist, the enemy system that organizes and distributes power is capitalism; for the radical feminist, it is patriarchy; and for the queer theorist, it is “hetero-normativity”. Liberation can only lie in the annihilation of the system that creates the antagonism. Liberation is conceived not as a modification or even a reversal of traditional order, but its transcendence. For the Marxist radical, the liberated future is the classless society; for the queer radical, it is the genderless planet. 18
Of concern to many parents is the question, what is happening in New Zealand schools regarding homophobia? As well as the very recent obligation to cover it under sexuality education within the new Health Curriculum, noted above, there have been resources and courses available for some time.
For example, many secondary schools since 1994 have been using Family Planning’s Affirming Diversity: An Educational Resource on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Orientations and their Challenges and Change: A Sexuality Education Programme for Adolescents, while from 1989 Rainbow Youth in Auckland (formerly known as ALGY) have provided services including school workshops. The Family Planning Association have run many workshops and seminars for teachers throughout the 90s. From the flyer for one such in 1990:
Accepting Differences in Sexual Orientation: Not all students are heterosexual. A proportion of adolescents in any class will be gay or lesbian. Experience has shown that some young people express disgust at the thought of homosexuality. The effect on students who identify as gay or lesbian can be devastating. Many New Zealand teenage suicides are gay adolescents. If we are to contribute to building self esteem in all our students, homophobia needs to be addressed. This workshop will introduce activities and classroom strategies which will enable teenagers to be more accepting of differences in sexual orientation.
Currently, the Ministry of Education’s NCEA Achievement Standard 1.5 for 2002 as presently drafted under Demonstrating Knowledge of Sexuality Issues reads:
A student in your class is constantly harassed on the way to school, and at school, by students. He is also called names such as ‘poof’, ‘fairy’, ‘faggot’ etc. He is a quiet student who is very talented at music and who is always top in science and maths tests. Explain, using the questions provided, what needs to happen to make school a safer and more helpful place for students in such situations. 19
This task highlights the repeated, some might say obsessional, use of the safety aspect, discussed earlier, in the campaign against homophobia. The safety theme is again to the fore in a staff guidelines pamphlet from the secondary teachers’ union (PPTA) about to be released into all schools: Making Schools Safe for People of Every Sexuality. 20
A new and expensive resource for Years 12 and 13, funded by the Health Funding Authority and published by the Christchurch College of Education,21 devotes considerable space to homosexuality and a radical questioning of gender and queer theory issues, along with sections on prostitution and pornography. Activities focus on safety, ‘discrimination and victimisation’ and increasing the acceptance of homosexuality. The challenge is said to be to “disrupt [ ] the binary construction of homosexuality/heterosexuality and to validate the full range of human sexual preferences.” (p.52)
The degree to which this resource is widely used without significant student or parent protest will be a measure of how far this country has moved down the humanist and liberal road.
Last year the New Zealand AIDS Foundation, with assistance from the Human Rights Commission and the Health Funding Authority, instituted anti-homophobia workshops for schools and workplaces under the heading He Aha Te Utu? What is the Cost? The Resource Kit states it is “part of an education campaign addressing homophobia (prejudice or discrimination against gay people), and how these issues impact on the Hau Ora of gay men, particularly in relation to HIV infection.” From the flyer and Resource Kit:
For gay people homophobic behaviour manifests:
- In the form of prejudice and discrimination often preventing people from seeking health care and advice, thus homophobia is an important barrier to the efficacy of HIV health promotion work;
- By impacting on the mental and emotional health of gay people, resulting in low self-esteem, low self worth, depression, anxiety, social isolation and loneliness;
- Adversely affecting gay people’s desire and ability to confidently negotiate safer sexual relationships;
- Placing gay people at greater risk of substance abuse, self harm and suicide
The workshop goal is to reduce homophobic behaviour by:
- Increasing understanding about what homophobia is.
- Creating a more supportive environment for msm [men who have sex with men].
- Creating safer schools and health organisations for msm. 22
To which the question arises – will all this new emphasis in schools on normalising homosexuality using the justification of safety and tackling ‘homophobia’ create safer schools for your sons and daughters? A group of concerned parents in Seattle put some relevant questions to their school District administrators:
[We agree] with the District that all children and their families should be safe from harrassment and physical harm on school grounds, and that differences between children and families should be tolerated. The District was unable to show how teaching affirmation of homosexuality would accomplish this, or how success would be measured, but they remain unyielding in their commitment to this plan. School officials flatly reject the proposal that zero-tolerance for all name-calling and bullying behavior be enforced without teaching affirmation and acceptance of homosexuality.
The District was also unable to provide any guidance as to how the wishes of parents who objected to their children’s exposure to homosexual affirming material were to be honored, and none was offered. 23
In New Zealand, with the right of principals and Boards to opt out of sexuality education about to be removed under changes to the Education Amendment (No.2) Bill, with the distinct possibility that even parents’ right to withdraw their children from such education will soon be under threat, should not these become real concerns for parents here as well?
1 Herek, Gregory M. “The Psychology of Sexual Prejudice” Current Directions in Psychological Science 2000, V.9(1) 19-22, footnote at p.19
2 Fone, Byrne. Homophobia: A History Metropolitan/Henry Holt NY. 2000 p.3
3 Plummer, David. One of the Boys: Masculinity, Homophobia, and Modern Manhood Haworth/Harrington Park Press NY. 1999 pp.1-10
4 David Plummer, pers. comm. Auckland 6 July 2000
5 Herek, op.cit. p.19
6 quoted in: First AIDS Education, Then “Safe Schools,” Then Gay Advocacy at http://www.narth.com/docs/firstaids.html
7 at http://www.massnews.com/1200fist3.htm Also quoted in: Homosexuals Recruit Public School Children: Activists use issues of ‘safety’, ‘tolerance’, and ‘homophobia’ as tactics to promote homosexuality in our nation’s schools. Rev Louis P. Sheldon at:
Jennings is also quoted at http://www.frc.org/iss/hsx/retrieve.cfm?get=PD98I1
8 Kirk, Marshall and Pill, Erastes. “The Overhauling of Straight America” Guide, November 1987. Variously on the web e.g. http://www.traditionalvalues.org/eha.html
The ideas there were much expanded in the prophetically titled After the Ball: How America Will Conquer its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s (1989) by Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen (Plume/Penguin NY 1990 printing)
9 “No Dominatrix in Hero Parade! Float Whipped Off!” Helen Robinson, express, 15 February 2001 p.3
10 Thomas, Clarence. Francis Boyer Lecture to the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 13 February, 2001 Washington D.C. http://www.aei.org/boyer/thomas.htm
11 Kirk and Madsen. op.cit. pp.150-153
12 National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges Inc. Homophobia/Heterosexism: Lecture & Workshop Beryl Fletcher NCIWR AGM June 1989
13 NZ Department of Health. Adolescent Sexuality: The Report of the Taskforce on Adolescent Sexuality Wellington March 1990
14 Health and Physical Education in the New Zealand Curriculum Ministry of Education, Wellington 1999 at p.22. Level 5 Strand C Relationships with Other People 2. Identity, Sensitivity and Respect.
15 Kirk and Madsen. op.cit. p.180
16 Thompson, Cooper. A Guide to Leading Introductory Workshops on Homophobia The Campaign to End Homophobia, Massachussetts, 1990 pp.23-25
17 National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges. Homophobia/Heterosexism: Lecture & Workshop op.cit. pp.2-6
18 Horowitz, David. The Politics of Bad Faith The Free Press NY 1998, p.156
19 NCEA Internal assessment resource Sexuality Issues: Level 1 2002 Health/1/5 – A version 2, p.4 at: http://www.tki.org.nz/r/ncea/health1_5Av2_2feb01.doc
20 NZ Post-Primary Teachers’ Assn. Safe Schools Taskforce: Making Schools Safe for People of Every Sexuality Wellington 2001 as discussed in “Making Schools Safe for Everybody” PPTA News V.22(2) March 2001 pp.4-5
21 Tasker, Gillian (ed). Social & Ethical Issues in Sexuality Education: A Resource for Health Education Teachers of Year 12 and 13 Students Christchurch College of Education 2000 pp.15-60
22 New Zealand AIDS Foundation. Anti-Homophobia Workshop, flyer and Resource Kit, He Aha Te Utu? What is the Cost? 2000
23 quoted from: First AIDS Education, Then “Safe Schools,” Then Gay Advocacy (undated) at http://www.narth.com/docs/firstaids.html