Homophobia and Internalized Homophobia

Anger Management Counselling Mill Park
January 15, 2019
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January 15, 2019

Homophobia and Internalized Homophobia



Homophobia is experienced in Australia by many people on a daily basis. The Human Rights Commission reports that 6 in 10 LGBTQ people experience verbal homophobic abuse, 2 in 10 experience physical abuse and 1 in 10 experience other types of abuse due to their sexual or gender diversity (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2014). This highlights the discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community and the tendency for these abuses to cause people to internalize discrimination within themselves.For many LGBTQ theorists the word homophobia should not be used because of the changed consensus on attitudes about homosexuality. Smith, Oades and McCarthy identified many different definitions of homophobia that underlines the changing nature of gender and sexuality attitudes (Smith, Oades, & McCarthy, 2012). Attitudes about homosexuality have shifted from seeing homosexuals as ‘sinners’, to being seen as a pathological illness, as homosexuality was recorded as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) until the early 1970’s. Since then homosexuality has been more embraced as part of the community and diverse sexuality and gender has been accepted more broadly. Due to the changes from homosexuality not being a ‘pathological illness’ to something that is more natural and readily accepted, many authors call for the removal of the word ‘homophobia’ to a more general term of heterosexism which focuses on the domination of heterosexual norms that oppress sexual and gender diversity (Sullivan, 2004). The studies used in this review have used the words ‘homophobia’, ‘heterosexisim’, ‘homonegativity’ and other words interchangeably, confusing both the research and measurement of IH.While the attitudes of homosexuality have changed over time there is still ignorant fear based attitudes about homosexuality, resulting in discrimination and hate crimes towards the GLBTI communities.

Herek defines heterosexism as a system that ‘denies, denigrates and stigmatises any non heterosexual form of behaviour, relationships of community’ (Herek G. , 1990). This general term encompasses many different aspects of what is considered ‘normal’ in society and any different practice or ways of being as less than or suppressed. It is important to understand that discrimination is experienced differently by each sexual minority group in the LGBTQ acronym. So homophobic behaviours are varied and experienced differently for Lesbian and Gay men. Homophobia can be a direct, in your face experience when someone uses horrible language to your face or homophobic behaviour can be within government policies or laws that prevent equality between heterosexuals and the gay community. This was clearly the case for criminalising 'homosexual acts' or 'sodomy' within Australian states. So while you may not experience a direct homophobic slur on the street homophobia is present and impactful on many people.

Heterosexism can be quite subtle and is often missed by many people. a sentence like 'do you have a girlfriend' to a male identifies and assumption of someone's sexuality with being open to the idea of the male person having a boyfriend or even a partner without a gender. This simple questions assumes sexuality and at times forces people to either correct the person or many times just answer the question. So in effect there is persuasion towards needing to be heterosexual until you state otherwise or that being heterosexual is 'normal'. This affect on a person identifying as gay or lesbian may be internalizing these thoughts that they are bad because they are gay or 'not normal'. This is commonly called internalized homophobia.

Internalized Homophobia


The following definition can be helpful as a starting point: Internalized homophobia is the gay person’s direction of negative social attitudes towards the self, leading to a devaluation of the self and resultant internal conflicts and poor self regard. So there are two components here:
The barrage of 'normal' attitudes about being heteorsexual is 'normal' and 'right' and
The gay or lesbian person internalizing these thoughts and negatively viewing themselves because of this.
So in these two parts there is the individuals view of themselves and also what they think 'others' will think if they identify as being homosexual. In counselling work there is a need to first focus on the person's view of themselves and break down the internal thoughts and then move to identifying allies the person can feel comfortable with so it feels less like a 'us' and 'them' battle. Internalized Homophobia is a very common for gay and lesbian people, specifically those who have grown up in a religious family or a family where there hasn't been many interactions with gay people.

So what does internalized homophobia look like?
Poor view of being gay and aligning this with being bad or 'not normal'
Sometimes the person can come across as homophobic towards others
There might be some people who go to extreme lengths to deny their sexuality or hide it.
There sometimes can also be a strong alignment with the person's gender roles, eg males being tough and females being feminine

So if you or a loved one or friend is experiencing homophobia, internalized homophobia or both, please reach out for support. More work needs to be done to talk through these issues and challenge heteronormative ways of thinking.


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