Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Homophobia

I was browsing through my blogging statistics and noticed that someone from Laramie Wyoming had visited my blog. I paused, wondering why that place was sticking out in my mind. I don't know anybody in Wyoming, much less Laramie. And then it hit me - that is where Matthew Shepherd was brutally murdered in a homophobic hate crime.

Shortly after midnight on October 7, 1998 two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, lead Matthew Shepherd to a remote area east of Laramie where they demonstrated unimaginable acts of hate. Matthew was tied to a split-rail fence where he was beaten and left to die in the cold of the night. Almost 18 hours later he was found by a cyclist who initially mistook him for a scarecrow. Matthew died on October 12 at 12:53 am at a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. His entire family was by his side for the last few days of his life. His funeral was attended by friends and family from around the world. Matthew's story brought media attention to the forefront of the fight against hate.

That was nearly 10 years ago - how much progress have we made in the fight against hate? Not much, I'm afraid. Sure, we've had some hate crime bills passed. But, to be honest, I'm ambivalent about such legislation. It seems more like a 'feel good' action that accomplishes little, if anything.

Hate is a double edged sword. There are many who profess to be Christians who embody hate as they reject anything perceived to 'further the homosexual agenda'. On the other side, there are many who demonstrate against hate, yet they also embody hate as they rail against the religious right. Is fighting hate with hate the answer?

... and many of us here in the Mormon queerosphere are suspended in the middle - rejected by both sides. Beck' addressed this in his recent post titled Ilk upon the landscape....

Many of us have experienced homophobia first hand. In Junior High and High School, I was labeled by some as a queer or faggot. While I was never physically harmed, I was verbally abused, I was pushed and shoved; once they spray painted "FAGGOT" on my locker door. As a result, I had very few friends in school. After all, who wants to be friends with the faggot?

But, that was a long time ago. Are things any better in our schools today? Sadly, it doesn't appear much has changed in the last 35 years.

According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

Of the estimated 1.6 million homeless American youth, up to 42 percent identify as lesbian or gay, and a disproportionate number identify as bisexual or transgender. Why do LGBT youth become homeless? In one study, 26 percent of gay teens who came out to their parents/guardians were told they must leave home. LGBT youth also leave home due to physical, sexual and emotional abuse. LGBT youth report they are threatened, belittled and abused at shelters by staff as well as other residents.
According to the Safe Schools Coalition
  • LGBTQ youth are 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth.
  • 58.7% of homeless and runaway LBGTQ youth have been sexually victimized (compared to 33.4% of heterosexual youth).
  • LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely to exhibit the symptoms of major depression.
  • LGTBQ youth use illicit substances more frequently than heterosexual youth and use more types of drugs.

It's not all doom and gloom. There are support organizations for youth and others that did not exist in my day. Many churches (including the LDS church), while still rejecting homosexuality, have softened their stance. Gone are the days when you could be excommunicated for mere admission of being a homosexual without any evidence of homosexual acts. Gone are the days when family was threatened with disciplinary action for simply supporting a gay child because they were perceived to be 'supporting or having sympathies towards any group or individual whose teachings were contrary to that of the church'. Gone are the days of aversion therapy where people where subjected to electric shock and drugs to make them violently ill while viewing gay pornography in an effort to turn them into a heterosexual. . . . But, we still have a ways to go.

As much as some of us try to distance ourselves from gay culture, whether we want to admit or not, all of us here in the Mormon queerosphere owe a certain debt of gratitude to gay pride and the courageous individuals who have risked incarceration, and even death, to fight for equality. Were it not for gay pride, homosexuality would still be viewed as a mental illness and a crime. And, as bad as it may seem at times, it is much better now than it was 50 years ago, and it's much better here in North America than it is in certain other parts of the world. Just 3 months ago, a 21 year old man was hanged in Iran -
having been convicted of having sex with another man.

But, homophobia is still going strong. Although, it is often much more subtle than in days past. Phrases like "that's so gay" where being gay is associated with being stupid and worthless. Families rejecting a gay child or sibling. Labeling any action that is favorable to homosexuals as "furthering the homosexual agenda" (whatever that means). Viewing an untimely death as God's just punishment for either being gay or for supporting homosexuality. Lumping everyone from those in committed monogamous relationships to those involved in drugs and promiscuous one-night stands as a single deviant group worthy of scorn. And the list goes on and on.

So, what is the answer? How can we combat rampant homophobia in our society? I don't think passing more hate crime legislation is the answer as it only tends to polarize society and cause each side to dig in further. But, I'm certainly not smart enough to know the answer.

UPDATE: Results on the poll

Question: Have you been a victim of homophobia? (select all that apply)

8 comments:

Kengo Biddles said...

I don't know that we can really combat it any more openly than one person at a time, one friend and their family at a time. And there will be people like Utah Senator Chris Buttars who spews hate, which is so much more readily acceptable to average people, because it's always easiest to hate the people that aren't like you.

Vanson said...

Very well put. I enjoy reading your blogs.

I still am not "out" yet, but when I was in high school, I drove the same car as an openly gay guy at school. One day, after arriving home, my dad pointed out that someone had covered my license plate with a piece of paper that read "FAG" in thick black letters. I told him what probably happened...someone mistook my car for the gay guy's. I was still deeply hurt inside though. This gay guy wasn't mean to others... he seemed really shy. I didn't understand how someone could be that cruel.

Today, after accepting the fact that I am gay, but still closeted, the offensive quotes still kind of hurts when people use those terms around me.

Sometimes I wonder if people would act differently if I were to come out. I wonder if people would be more accepting.

draco said...

It's going to take time. We still see racism issues going on in America and discrimination against women. As mean as this may sound, I think we might just have to wait for the intolerant homophobic people to die out. I think each rising generation brings a new perspective.

Abelard Enigma said...

combat it ... one person at a time, one friend and their family at a time

That's an area where I need to be more courageous. When I hear inappropriate comments I need to speak up more. I need to explore ways ways of doing that without 'outing' myself.

I still am not "out" yet

I wasn't out in school; in fact, I was still in deep denial and didn't consider myself to be gay. I was always perplexed as to why others labeled me so - I guess their gaydar was working better than mine :)

I still don't consider myself 'out'. The only person I've told who knows me in person is my wife. But, that's not really 'coming out' to my wife - it's more dragging her into my closet.

Sometimes I wonder if people would act differently if I were to come out. I wonder if people would be more accepting.

Act differently? - most definitely.
Be more accepting? - not necessarily.

we might just have to wait for the intolerant homophobic people to die out

Unfortunately intolerant people beget intolerant children. Look at Fred Phelps and his minions - they have young children holding up signs that say "God Hates Fags!"

I don't think we'll ever eliminate homophobia. We still have people like the KKK who spew racist comments - but does anyone take them seriously? I think we are reaching a point in our society where racism is becoming marginalized. That's where, I hope, we are heading with homophobia.

Beck said...

I can't help but think that the world is becoming more tolerant of each other (even if one person at a time like Kengo said).

I can't help but remember the open discussion in Priesthood meeting last September where homophobic comments were crushed and extinguished by comments of love and acceptance.

If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere... it just takes time.

J G-W said...

I think the answer to this question is we simply have to live our lives openly, lovingly, and without fear.

I can't control somebody else's behavior. I can't "make" someone else a more loving or tolerant person. I can only control my own behavior. I choose to organize my life around the principle of unconditional love. It is up to others to choose whether they will respond in kind...

J G-W said...

BTW... Was looking at your poll.

Göran was physically assaulted, smashed in the face with a beer bottle. As they were assaulting him, in addition to calling him a "f**king faggot" they also accused him of trying to "act white."

I've never been assaulted, but have been the target of physical threats. I had a knife pulled on me, but fortunately escaped from the would-be assailant. Back when I used to write letters to the editors of newspapers, I would get hate mail and hate phone calls.

Despite the fact that I am pretty openly gay, I haven't experienced anything like this in a long time. The incidents I described happened about 15 years ago. I don't know if things are getting better. For me personally it has been better. I'm sure there are hate-crimes statistics more reliable than my anecdotal experience.

My sense -- based on what I've been told by our foster son Glen -- is that things in the public schools in Minneapolis at least are much, much better than when I was growing up. There are occasional homophobic comments or sniggering when they announce GSA ("Gay Straight Alliance") meetings over the intercom, but in general its quite an affirming environment.

Abelard Enigma said...

its quite an affirming environment.

I suspect it depends on what part of the country you live in. The public schools in my home town have gone to great lengths to prevent GSA from forming a chapter in the local high schools.

Dallas had a private high school exclusively for GLBT students (supposedly the first one in the country). There is a documentary about it that airs occasionally on Logo; although, I believe it has since closed. I don't think it was able to make it financially.