Ask not for whom homophobia tolls

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com February 07 2005 12:00 AM ET

During his State
of the Union address last week, President Bush supported
a constitutional amendment to restrict the institution of
marriage to include a man and a woman to the exclusion
of same-sex couples. The week before, Secretary of
Education Margaret Spellings pressured PBS to cancel
an episode of its Postcards from Buster children’s
series because it portrayed several children whose two
families were headed by lesbian mothers. In the wake of these actions, 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
relationship to slavery corrupted their humanity.
While the social conditions of Douglass’s time were
very different from those today, nonetheless I believe
his 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 actions of
the Bush administration on this issue serves their
interests in a number of ways, I believe such a policy
is misguided and uninformed, and therefore this strategy
will eventually backfire and the chain will take hold
of them. In truth, homophobia (prejudice and
discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and
transgender people) is pervasive throughout our society,
and each of us, regardless of sexual or gender identity and
expression, is at risk of its harmful effects. First, homophobic conditioning compromises the
integrity of people by pressuring them to treat others
badly, which is 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 that inhibit creativity and self
expression. It is often 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. 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 someone of the other sex, which
in turn places undue stress and oftentimes traumatizes
them as well as their heterosexual spouses and their children. Homophobia combined with sexphobia (fear and
revulsion of sex) results in the elimination of
discussion of the lives and sexuality of LGBT people
as part of school-based sex education, keeping vital
information from all students. In the age of AIDS such
a lack of information can kill people. And homophobia
(along with racism, sexism, classism, and 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 and attention
from more constructive endeavors. It also prevents
heterosexuals from accepting the benefits and gifts offered
by LGBT people, including theoretical insights, social
and spiritual visions and options, contributions to
the arts and culture, to religion, to education, to
family life—indeed, to all facets of society. Ultimately, homophobia 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. 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 on us like acid rain.
For some people, spirits are tarnished to the core; others
are marred on the surface; 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.