Countering Heterosexism, Homophobia and Transphobia

By OBOS Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Contributors | October 15, 2011
Last Revised on Apr 25, 2014

Is your school or workplace welcoming to LGBTQ people, or are sexual orientation and gender identity either completely ignored or joked about in demeaning ways? If you’ve come out, is your family supportive, or have family members made you feel unwanted unless you “change”?

Some cultures teach us to fear and hate homosexuality and gender variance in others and in ourselves. This hatred hurts everyone.

Heterosexism is the assumption — in individuals and in public policy — that heterosexuality is the only normal orientation. Despite increased acceptance of same-sex marriage in the United States, for example, many same-sex couples face daily discrimination. They are still prevented in some states from getting married, filing joint tax returns, and obtaining insurance coverage under a partner’s insurance plan. At schools, essential safer-sex educational materials, when offered, often omit same-sex relationships.

A woman whose partner transitioned from female to male reports her mother’s response to her new “heterosexual” status:

We are literally the same two people, but after my partner’s transition, my mom started sending him birthday cards and inviting him to family events. I thought she’d have a hard time with it, but she was like, “Woo-hoo! Now my daughter has a partner I can actually talk about with my friends!”

Homophobia is fear and hatred of people who are attracted to the same sex. It can be directed toward others or internalized. Transphobia, likewise, is fear and hatred of gender-variant people.

Violence, homelessness, police brutality, chronic underemployment, and poverty disproportionately affect transgender people. Those who don’t easily fit within the gender binary may find it difficult to attend school, hold jobs, or even go to public restrooms without fear of harassment, violence or even arrest.

It is difficult for trans people to access services such as rape crisis centers, emergency medical care, homeless shelters, group homes, and domestic violence shelters because these spaces are segregated by sex. Those who experience discrimination and harassment in the health-care system may avoid seeking medical care.

Trans people of color and low-income trans people also are affected by racism and class discrimination that exacerbate the difficulties faced by trans people in general. Transgender and transsexual people also sometimes face discrimination within the queer community.

In many places in the United States and around the world, activists are challenging homophobia and transphobia, and achieving positive change. The Think Before You Speak campaign raises awareness of the prevalence and consequences of anti-LGBT bias and behavior in America’s schools. One goal is to get kids to think twice before saying, “That’s so gay.”

The Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force works to advance equality for LGBT people and trains young leaders for the future. The National Black Justice Coalition works to eradicate racism and homophobia and advocates for the unique challenges and needs of LGBT African Americans.

In schools and colleges, in workplaces, in religious organizations, and in the military, LGBTQ people and their allies are mobilizing for justice while committing the radical act of simply loving each other.

Below are additional resources that provide information and support to LGBTQ people.

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If I could take all my parts with me when I go somewhere, and not have to say to one of them, “No, you stay home tonight, you won’t be welcome, because I’m going to an all-white party where I can be gay, but not Black.’ Or “I’m going to a Black poetry reading, and half of the poets are antihomosexual,” or thousands of situations where something of what I am cannot come with me. The day all the different parts of me can come along, we would have what I would call a revolution.”
- Pat Parker, “Movement in Black