Homophobia occurs in many situations and on many levels. The term homophobia was originally used to describe an intense, irrational fear or hatred of homosexuality, homosexual people, or toward homosexual identity and activity in general.

Homophobia is any attitude, behaviour or belief system that is prejudiced against people who are or are perceived to be homosexual, bisexual or who identify as transgender or intersex. It describes values and behaviours that discriminate against homosexual, bisexual, transgender or intersex people because of their sexuality. Homophobia is an expression of social prejudice towards people who do not conform to heterosexual identity and behaviour or to normative ideas about gender and what it means to be a woman or a man.

While homophobia is often thought to be a form of prejudice against same-sex attracted people, the term can be used to describe three forms of sexual prejudice:

  • Prejudice toward same-sex attracted people (homophobia)
  • Prejudice towards same and opposite sex attracted people (biphobia)
  • Prejudice toward transgendered people (transphobia)
Homophobia and Heterosexism

Homophobia is an attitude or belief system that regards homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender identities as threats to heterosexuality and to traditional, normative ideas about what it means to be a “real” man or “real” woman. These attitudes and belief systems are closely tied to heterosexismwhich is the assumption that heterosexuality is the “right”, natural or superior sexual orientation and that those who don’t conform to this sexual identity are abnormal or strange.

Heterosexism is an expression of social and cultural ‘norms’ that support the notion that heterosexuality is inherently “right” and that homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender identities are “wrong”.  This belief is part of what is known as heteronormativity, the assumption that everyone is heterosexual and that heterosexuality is dominant and the norm.

Heterosexism takes shape across various aspects of our social, cultural and political lives. A common example of heterosexism is when a woman is asked “do you have a boyfriend”, or a man is asked whether or not he has a girlfriend, without knowing the person’s sexual orientation. This automatically assumes that they are straight, and is an expression of the underlying belief that heterosexuality is the norm and anything otherwise is strange or abnormal.

Another dominant example of heterosexism is the expectation that same-sex attracted, bisexual or transgender people must “come out” as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. This demonstrates the assumption that everyone is heterosexual and other sexual identities must be exposed or proven in some way.

Homophobia can take many forms, including:

Personal or internalised homophobia

Personal homophobia refers to when an individual believes that lesbian, gay bisexual or transgender people are immoral or inferior to homosexuals or that they are not “real” or “complete” as a woman or man. These beliefs are learned through social and cultural norms and environments promoting heterosexist and heteronormative ideas and behaviours.

People who are same-sex attracted, bisexual or transgender may share these beliefs themselves. This is called internalised homophobia, because the gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person has internalised the belief that they are immoral or inferior. In many cases when homophobia is internalised, the individual may try to hide or deny their sexuality, have low self-esteem, lower their expectations on life or engage in harmful behaviours.

Interpersonal homophobia

Interpersonal homophobia (between two or more people) refers to the dislike, fear or hatred of people who are homosexual, bisexual or transgender. This is often expressed through homophobic speech or actions of an individual or group towards others who are, or are perceived to be, bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender or queer. Verbal and physical harassment or acts of discrimination are the main way in which interpersonal homophobia is expressed and enacted. Some examples may include:

  • excluding someone from a group because of their sexuality
  • name calling, physical and emotional abuse
  • homophobic jokes that aim to put down or ridicule gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people
 Institutional homophobia

This refers to the ways in which governments, businesses, churches and other institutions discriminate against LGBTQ people on the basis of their sexual orientation. Institutions and organisations may discriminate against LGBTQ people by:

  • Establishing policy or legislation that place limitations on or are prejudiced towards people because of their sexual orientation.
  • Preventing people from accessing career opportunities or discriminating against a person in the workplace for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender
  • Promoting homophobic standards or codes  and unwritten rules for conduct which discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality
Cultural homophobia

Cultural homophobia describes the social norms and behaviours that promote heterosexist ideas that see lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people as inferior. These ideas are reinforced through a variety of cultural outlets such as tv shows, movies or advertisements where almost all people, characters and relationships are represented as heterosexual.

Cultural homophobia is expressed through the language and words we use, with words like “gay”, “fag”, “lezzo”, “dyke” or “poof” used to insult, ridicule or hurt people or groups of people.

Examples of cultural homophobia:

  • Thinking LGBTQ people are too loud or outspoken about civil rights, eg. The right for same-sex marriage
  • Believing that you can “spot” or pick out a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person
  • Feeling annoyed or repulsed by public displays of affection between same-sex or bisexual couples
Homophobic harassment

Many LGBTQ people suffer different experiences and levels of harassment on the basis of their sexual orientation. Homophobic harassment is any action or behavior that intimidates, humiliates, insults, excludes, silences or aims to harm a person or group of people because of their sexual orientation or perceived sexual identity.

The effects of homophobic harassment

The violence and homophobia faced by LGBTQ people occurs across all social settings and locations. Homophobic harassment has many negative effects on individuals, groups and on society as a whole. The high levels of homophobic harassment faced in Australia are known to have a direct impact on the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ people.

People who experience homophobic harassment may develop mild to severe depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and self-loathing due to the abuse they face. It can cause people to be or feel to be rejected by family and friends and excluded from social circles, school or workplaces. Over 60% of LGBTQ Australians modify their behaviour on a daily basis to avoid these experiences of harassment and violence.

How to deal with homophobic harassment

Homophobia denies people of their basic human rights as members of society and of their community. Every person is entitled to their own sexual identity and to be able to express their sexuality free from discrimination and prejudice. No one should have to put up with being harassed or abused because of their sexuality or gender.

If you, or someone you know is experiencing homophobic harassment, there are resources and people that can help you take personal or legal action. Youth Central has some helpful information about same-sex attraction and dealing with discrimination and harassment. Whether you’re gay, bisexual, lesbian, straight or transgender, you can help take action against homophobic harassment and promote the rights of all individuals to express their sexuality and gender.

*For LGBTQ support services, check out Reach Out’s info on national and state by state hotlines, websites and resources here

Click here for a list of Support Services.