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Posted by on Feb 7, 2014 in Ireland, Secularism, Uncategorized | 35 comments

The term homophobia is important if we are to tackle prejudice faced by LGBT people.

The term homophobia has been the topic of much debate recently after John Waters and patrons of the Iona Institute took legal action against RTE following comments made on the Saturday Night Show by Rory O’Neill, a.k.a. Panti Bliss. However, the debate has solely centred on the appropriateness of its application, little is being said about what homophobia is; not only in terms of its definition but also what it means for the LGBT community.

There are numerous misconceptions being bandied about, the most troublesome of which is that homophobia is strictly an ‘irrational fear of or aversion to homosexuals’. This is because the term contains the word phobia and people inevitably link the term to clinical phobias which are strictly defined as having an irrational fear. We must not make the mistake of thinking that homophobia and clinical phobias are the same, this is simply is not the case, homophobia is far more nuanced and encompassing.

The EU defines homophobia more broadly, and more fittingly: ‘homophobia can be defined as an irrational fear of and aversion to homosexuality and to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people based on prejudice and similar to racism, xenophobia, anti-semitism and sexism, whereas homophobia manifests itself in the private and public spheres in different forms, such as hate speech and incitement to discrimination, ridicule and verbal, psychological and physical violence, persecution and murder, discrimination in violation of the principle of equality and unjustified and unreasonable limitations of rights, which are often hidden behind justifications based on public order, religious freedom and the right to conscientious objection’.

It is only reasonable to allow LGBT people the same facility as women and racial minorities to identify issues. To limit the usage of the term homophobia to only the worst cases of prejudice is to disarm LGBT people in the fight against bigotry. This would be a dangerous precedent in a nation where, according to the Child Research Centre in Trinity, 20% of LGBT people under twenty-five have attempted suicide. If we are to help LGBT youth and the wider community we must allow them to discuss the prejudice they face on their own terms.

People, however, balk when they hear the word homophobic, more so than when racist or sexist is uttered. This is because the fight for sex and racial equality is decades old and the words racist and sexist have been in the national discourse for some time. In short, people are used to them. This is not the case with homophobia as the terminology is comparatively new. But the solution is not to shy away from utilising the word, but to have an open and frank discussion about homophobia, how to recognise it, how to prevent it, and how to tackle it.

The most important thing to realise about homophobia is that it is not always obvious. It ranges from the extreme to the subtle, from the psychical to the verbal. It is not always a conscious act; many people can commit homophobic acts without ever realising it. This is because homophobia, much like racism and sexism, is institutionalised, socially engrained. None of us can escape it and all of us can be guilty of it. The only effective method of combatting homophobic tendencies is by listening to LGBT people when they say certain actions are homophobic, not by reacting against the notion, not by refusing to listen to an oppressed community when they inform you that you are contributing to that oppression, and not by acting as if being called homophobic is some great injury upon your person.

Homophobia is a major problem in Ireland; it will not go away by banishing the term homophobic to the upper echelons of abuse. We must allow the LGBT community to express themselves fully when it comes to the prejudice they face. But this expression is all for nought if we do not listen to what is being said. We must listen, take heed and, finally, introspection and self-critique are vital if we are to rid ourselves of homophobic tendencies. Only then can we truly tackle the issue of homophobia in Ireland.

 

  • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

    A devout Catholic named Hypo feels no “fear or aversion” but only joy and warmth towards every LGBT person she meets. Hypo puts aside her personal feelings, though, and publicly supports church doctrine whenever churchmen announce that they will be supporting institutional discrimination against LGBT people at any level, because Hypo has been raised to believe that her personal feelings matter far less than millennia of church tradition and apostolic authority.

    Hypothetically speaking, is Hypo being homophobic or heterosexist or both? Should we not distinguish between subjective attitudes “-phobias” and the terrible behaviours they often tend to induce “-isms” for the sake of clarity? If the problem of heterosexism is rooted in faith rather than feelings, at least for some people, would that not necessarily change our approach to solving it?

    • http://skepticink.com/humanisticas/ Peter Ferguson

      To me, homophobia is an expression it doesn’t speak to motivation. For example, if two people oppose gay being teachers, one because he/she hates gay people and the other simply because of Church doctrine but they actually care about homosexuals. Regardless of their motivation they are both expressing the same homophobic tendencies and are therefore both homophobic.

      Terms such as sexist, racist, homophobic etc are there for historically oppressed groups to highlight the discrimination they face. It would be a ludicrous and impossible ask for them to discern the motivation of the person discriminating against them and use the appropriate term. So even if , hypothetically, your approach would be better, it simply isn’t practicable. Especially sine many veil their actual dislike of homosexuality behind fuzzy buzzword such as ‘ethos’, ‘belief’, ‘tradition’ etc.

      • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

        If “homophobia” doesn’t speak to motivation, why is it defined by the EU in terms of fear and aversion?

        What you are calling “homophobic tendencies” on the part of someone who (by stipulation) feels neither fear nor aversion are more aptly described as heterosexist actions. It is the sexist and discriminatory actions that are problematic, not the diverse motivations.

        As to those who veil their fears or aversions in the guise of faith, ethos, belief, tradition, and such like, it is easy for me to say that I oppose their heterosexism regardless of whether it is rooted in fear or faith or blind adherence to traditional forms. The actions matter to me far more than the motivations, which only matter insofar as we need to know them if we hope to free individual minds.

        • http://skepticink.com/humanisticas/ Peter Ferguson

          It is defined much more broadly than that. Fear and aversion is a part of it but it would be foolish to constrict the term to mere motivation.

          If we view homophobia as an injury inflicted upon a person, which I think it should be. What other injury inflicted upon a person do we define by the motivation of the person inflicting the injury. None that I can think of. So why do so here?

          There are two arguments to be had here. There is the more rational one which you seem to be making and there is the practicable which is the one I am making.

          So even if you are correct rationally. In a practical sense it would be the wrong approach simply because the term homophobia is already in use and it wouldn’t be wise to try and introduce new terminology , especially at this critical juncture in LGBT rights.

  • http://www.theoddsmustbecrazy.com/ Wendy Hughes

    I see it so much more simply. If the contributions to society made by LGBT people were somehow wiped out, our society would look very different. Imagine culture without Gertrude Stein, Truman Capote, or historically, Alexander the Great… Without my LGBT friends my life would be so much bleaker. I don’t always do it right, but I try to be friendly and fair. I hope for the best that our society is improving in recognizing that gender identity is kind of a sliding scale with many kinds of orientation.

  • Pingback: RE: Panti Bliss. The term homophobia is important if we are to tackle prejudice faced by LGBT people. | Kinkementary Sex |()

  • Bramley Hawthorne

    The term is meaningless if different people understand it to mean different things. If you mean gay-hater, why not use that word? In any case whoever made up ‘homophobia’ confused the meaning of Homo (‘man’ in Latin, ‘same’ in Greek) and came up with a nonsense compound. Stick with gay-hater; there’s no confusion.

    • http://skepticink.com/humanisticas/ Peter Ferguson

      Many people have a different understanding of many words, that is why we have official definitions which I have supplied above.

      Why not use woman-hater instead of sexist, or black-hater instead of racist? Your logic simply doesn’t follow.

      Regarding the Greek/Latin compound, it’s an irrelevant point. There are many such compounds.

  • f_galton

    Aversion to homosexuals is innate in many people. They should be allowed to express themselves fully.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      Who has suggested otherwise?

      • f_galton

        The author of this piece, for one.

    • http://skepticink.com/humanisticas/ Peter Ferguson

      Yes, and they are more than welcome to do so. And I should be allowed to offer my opinion on those expressions, including labeling them homophobic if I think they are.

      • f_galton

        Why do you have to label people?

        • http://skepticink.com/humanisticas/ Peter Ferguson

          Labeling is an important aspect of identifying prejudice and discrimination. If we are to combat sexism/racism/homophobia we must first identify what it is to be racist/sexist/homophobic.

          • f_galton

            Labeling is an important aspect of identifying sinners. If we are to combat sinners we must first identify what it is to be a sinner. The only reason anyone would be against the use of such labels would be to continue to be a sinner unimpeded.

          • http://skepticink.com/humanisticas/ Peter Ferguson

            Yep. You can call them sinners all you like and I can call people homophobic for doing so. Deal?

          • f_galton

            I don’t label others homophobic or sinners.

          • http://skepticink.com/humanisticas/ Peter Ferguson

            You don’t have to. No rational reason why I can’t label people homophobic for doing homophobic things.

          • f_galton

            You use that term for emotional reasons. It is irrational to demonize people who were born with a particular attitude you disagree with.

          • http://skepticink.com/humanisticas/ Peter Ferguson

            If aversion to homosexuals is innate as you claim then how is labeling them homophobic irrational? The definition includes aversion to homosexuals.

            Your own logic doesn’t follow.

          • f_galton

            You’ve already admitted your motives are not rational.

          • http://skepticink.com/humanisticas/ Peter Ferguson

            Where?

          • f_galton

            When you stated labeling is necessary to identify sinners in order to combat sin.

          • http://skepticink.com/humanisticas/ Peter Ferguson

            No, you said that. I simply stated that I couldn’t stop you from doing so. Complete difference which is obvious in fairness.

          • f_galton

            That’s exactly what you’re doing.

          • http://skepticink.com/humanisticas/ Peter Ferguson

            You’re failing to make any sense. What is it that I am doing? I never sad anything about sin, you did. Reread comments.

          • Adam

            Love actually comes naturally. HATE is taught. This is because God is love. If you disagree, sorry, you’re wrong and biblically wrong at that.

        • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

          How can someone hope to overcome an irrational fear of something harmless if no one ever tells them that is the problem?

          • f_galton

            There is no reason to listen to dishonest people who pretend disgust is fear and that such disgust is problem to be overcome.

          • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

            If we feel disgust at people who are making each other happy, and not harming anyone else, that IS a problem to be overcome, or at the very least, consciously prevented from being translated into policy.

            Suppose I feel disgust at watching gay porn. As a utilitarian, I should realize that people are enjoying it, it causes me no harm, it causes them no harm, and then I should refrain from criminalizing or demonizing their sexual expression.

          • f_galton

            I have one coworker who feels eating pork is disgusting. I have no urge to make him “overcome” his irrational aversion.

          • f_galton

            Many who dislike homosexuality do so because they were born that way. Labeling them “homophobic” and demanding they change is demonizing them.

    • Todd Heath

      Aversion to homosexuality is taught, as is all other forms of bigotry. There is nothing innate about it.

    • Eshto

      I highly doubt it’s innate, and regardless, people who have a problem with me or my romantic relationships can just keep their “aversion” to themselves, thanks. I don’t go around shooting my mouth off about other people’s love lives.

      • f_galton

        In a free society we all have to tolerate expression we don’t agree with.