An Editorial by Warren J. Blumenfeld
In this season of increased public criticism of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people by political and "religious" conservatives, I cannot help thinking about something Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave and abolitionist, once said when he described the dehumanizing effects of slavery not on slaves alone, but also on white slave owners, whose position to slavery corrupted their humanity. While the social conditions of the 19th century were very different from today, nonetheless, I believe Douglass's words hold meaning by analogy: "No [person] can put a chain about the ankle of [another person] without at last finding the other end fastened about [his or her] own neck."
Though it cannot be denied that the scapegoating of LGBT people by conservatives serves their POLITICAL interests in a number of ways, eventually this strategy will backfire and the chain will take hold of them.
In truth, homophobia (prejudice and discrimination against LGBT people) is pervasive throughout the society and each of us, irrespective of sexual identity, is at risk of its harmful effects.
First, homophobic conditioning compromises the integrity of people by pressuring them to treat others badly, which are actions contrary to their basic humanity. It inhibits one's ability to form close, intimate relationships with members of one's own sex, generally restricts communication with a significant portion of the population and, more specifically, limits family relationships.
Homophobia locks all people into rigid gender-based roles, which inhibit creativity and self expression. It often is used to stigmatize, silence, and, on occasion, target people who are perceived or defined by OTHERS as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, but who are, in actuality, heterosexual.
In addition, homophobia is one cause of premature sexual involvement, which increases the chances of teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Young people, of ALL sexual identities, are often pressured to become HETEROSEXUALLY active to prove to themselves and others that they are "normal."
Societal homophobia prevents some LGBT people from developing an authentic self identity, and adds to the pressure to marry, which in turn places undue stress and oftentimes trauma on themselves as well as their heterosexual spouses and their children.
Homophobia combined with sexphobia (fear and revulsion of sex) results in the elimination of discussions of the lives and sexuality of LGBT people as part of school-based sex education, keeping vital information from all students. Such a lack of information can kill people in the age of AIDS. And homophobia (along with racism, sexism, classism, sexphobia) inhibits a unified and effective governmental and societal response to the AIDS pandemic.
With all of the truly important issues facing the world, homophobia diverts energy from more constructive endeavors. It also prevents heterosexuals from accepting the benefits and gifts offered by LGBT people: theoretical insights, social and spiritual visions and options, contributions in the arts and culture, to religion, to family life, indeed, to all facets of society. Ultimately, it inhibits appreciation of other types of diversity, making it unsafe for everyone because each person has unique traits not considered mainstream or dominant. Therefore, we are ALL diminished when any one of us is demeaned.
The meaning is quite clear. When any group of people is scapegoated, it is ultimately everyone's concern. For today, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are targeted. Tomorrow, they may come for you. Everyone, therefore, has a self interest in actively working to dismantle all the many forms of bigotry, including homophobia.
I believe that we are ALL born into an environment polluted by homophobia (one among many forms of oppression) which falls upon us like acid rain. For some people, spirits are tarnished to the core, others are marred on the surface, and no one is completely protected. Therefore, we all have a responsibility, indeed an opportunity, to join together as allies to construct protective shelters from the corrosive effects of bigotry while working to clean up the homophobic environment in which we live. Once sufficient steps are taken to reduce this pollution, we will all breathe a lot easier.
Warren J. Blumenfeld is editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price, and the Journal of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Identity. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org