Reacting to homophobia
If you witness homophobia, you need to speak up. First, refer the victim of homophobia to a relevant resource. This will help the person see that they are not alone and to better deal with the situation.
Standing up to homophobia may mean defusing the situation first. You can then explain to the person in question why their behaviour is inappropriate and how it may harm the people around them. Informing, educating and raising awareness are three trusted ways to combat all forms of prejudice.
The four main expressions of homophobia
Homophobic discrimination usually takes one of the following four forms:
Jokes are the most common form of discrimination. Jokes about homosexuality may seem innocuous, but they can be hurtful and offensive. By denigrating people from sexual minorities, they can exacerbate the problems an individual may have in accepting his or her own homosexuality. In addition, they tend to trivialize homophobic prejudices and stereotypes.
Teasing is a more direct form of discrimination and should not be underestimated, since it attacks an important aspect of the victim: his or her identity. Teasing conveys stereotypical representations that tend to make victims feel inferior or lacking in legitimacy. It undermines the self-esteem of people from sexual minorities.
Harassment is a specific form of discrimination with serious consequences. Because of its repetitive nature, it undermines the person’s self-acceptance and fulfillment within the community.
Lastly, physical aggression: In Québec, homophobic murder is extremely rare, but physical violence against people from sexual minorities still exists. People may be attacked because of their sexual orientation – for example, by their neighbours or as they leave a gay bar. Attacks such as these threaten the victim’s physical and psychological integrity, and can take the form of hate crimes.
If homophobia is to be eradicated, none of the above forms of homophobic discrimination should be tolerated.
Transsexual versus transgender – what’s the difference?
Transgender people are those whose gender identity does not match their biologically assigned sex. They live as members of the opposite sex but have not undergone sex reassignment surgery. For transsexuals, as for transgender people, their gender identity and biological sex do not match. However, unlike transgender people, transsexuals have “transitioned” physically into the opposite sex through hormone therapy and some form of sex reassignment surgery. Transgender people living as members of the opposite sex may also receive hormone therapy.
Homophobia can be insidious. For example, the word “gay” is often used by children to refer to something ugly, undesirable or negative: “That’s so gay!” Children who use the term “gay” in this way probably do not mean to be homophobic, but their words can be taken as indirect criticism by children from sexual minorities. This can affect people’s self-esteem at a time in their lives when they are figuring out who they are and struggling with the many challenges of accepting their sexuality.
At work, physical and verbal abuse is rare. However, one-quarter of employees who are LGBT are subjected to derogatory jokes or comments. Remarks such as these can ostracize people from sexual minorities, whether they are directed at someone who is openly gay or at someone assumed not to be heterosexual, either because they do not talk about their private lives or because of how they express their gender.