can’t see the forest

Homophobia and Society

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Here’s an essay I composed for philosophy class:


As of 2006, homosexuality is illegal in 81 of the world’s nations.[1] The offense is punishable by death in some countries (particularly in the Middle East). Of course, it is not only governments which execute gay citizens—in 1992 a U.S. naval officer was stomped to death by fellow seamen, and in 1998 University of Wyoming student Matthew Shephard was severely beaten, pistol-whipped, and left tied up to die by two men who had asked him for a ride.[2] But long before a person’s fear, disdain, or hatred for homosexuality reaches such a boiling point, the expression and cultivation of dismissive and persecutory attitudes towards homosexuals individually or as a group can be observed throughout society. Anti-homosexual bias is sometimes the consequence of religious or other cultural beliefs; more often it is the product of fear as the result of miseducation. Whatever its causes and manifestations, discrimination against homosexuality is historically and scientifically unfounded and constitutes unethical nonsequitur for the individual who believes that one should respect the freedom of others as one would wish his or her own freedom to be respected.

One can choose to place sexuality at any distance from the focus of the Weltanschauung, but objectively speaking, sex is an activity and not an ID badge. The seed from which springs much of the misunderstanding of homosexuality is the idea that the homosexual is somehow diseased or defective, that the practice of homosexual behavior is a sign of moral errancy or genetic corruption. No studies have conclusively shown that homosexuality is the result of congenital physiological factors. Even Simon LeVay, author of one of the studies most frequently cited as evidence that homosexuality is the result of biological triggers, said in 1994: “I did not prove that homosexuality was genetic . . . I didn’t show that gay men were born that way, the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work.”[3] Some people who identify themselves as homosexuals embrace biology as the fountainhead of their gayness, feeling they were “born that way.” But science tends to disagree, and a fairly broad concensus among psychologists and neurologists feels that humans are born bisexual, that sexual orientation is primarily if not exclusively the product of nurture and not nature, so to speak. More accurately, the tendency of a culture to divide its people into “homos” and “heteros” is the result of social influences and cultural practices and has little if any basis in biology. The Kinsey studies found that a majority of males and females recalled both homosexual and heterosexual experiences or sensations at one or more points in their lives. [4] While most research psychologists agree that sexual preferences determined and exercised early in life can be difficult to change at will later, those persons who have been either exclusively heterosexual or exclusively homosexual throughout life do not form a decisive majority.

Religious pretexts for the discouragement or forbodement of homosexual behavior are hypocritical and unequivocal at best. While the Bible does state that a man should not lie with a man as he would with another woman, it states with equal clarity and authority that unruly children should be stoned by the community.[5] One wonders what percentage of those who believe that homosexuality is morally wrong for religious reasons also feel that disobedient kids should be put to a painful death at the hands of the neighborhood. Moral law from religious texts is quite selectively observed, as it turns out, especially in the Abrahamic faiths.

For all their perceived cultural and political differences, Anglo-American and Muslim societies seem in many cases to share the sense that homosexuality is corrosive to the “moral fiber” of the community. If certain people who self-identify as homosexuals seem eager to outwardly project their lifestyles, it can be cogently argued that such behavior is a reaction to discrimination, not a cause of it. To assert otherwise is to assert that the African-American civil rights protestors of the 1960s were expressing dissent in order to force their blackness upon others, a clearly ridiculous proposition. The state typically prohibits lewd sexual behavior or assault whether it is homosexual or heterosexual in nature; hence, it should extend the same social opportunity and legal recognition to homosexuality as to heterosexuality.

The irrational belief that the existence of homosexual relationships is somehow a threat to the “sanctity of marriage” is a displacement of responsibility. The sanctity of marriage is defined by the values and actions of the married couple and is not the result of any external influence, except to the extent that the married couple allows it to be. Similarly, the idea that the presence of homosexuality in the community is a danger to family values implies that family values are not set and maintained by the family.

Aside from the fact that safe, consensual sex between any two human beings could not possibly be coherently perceived as a threat to the human rights of any other individual, the best reason for personal and social acceptance of homosexuality is that it has always existed and will probably indefinitely persist throughout the animal kingdom, to include homo sapiens. Certain expressions of homosexuality were widely permitted in Greek culture, for instance, and are still accepted or encouraged in numerous cultures around the world in which the revelatory faiths are not dominant. More than 1,500 species of animal life have been found to exhibit homosexual behavior[6]; certain male penguins mate for life, for one example among many. Some psychologists have theorized that the wide appearance of homosexuality in certain dolphin communities is an evolutionary response to depopulation due to over-aggression among males.[7] Even absent of the conviction that homosexuality is neither morally nor biologically perverse, the sensible individual must realize that fear and hatred of those who engage in homosexual behavior is primarily self-destructive. Those who would seek to nourish their senses of self and of community would do well to encourage diversity rather than attack it.

[1] Al-Ahram Weekly Online, Issue 793.


[2] Southern Poverty Law Center.


[3] Discover magazine, March 1994.


[4] Alfred Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1948; Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, 1953.


[5] The Holy Bible, Deuteronomy Ch. 21


[6] Wikipedia Online – Homosexuality.


[7] BBC News, Oct. 19, 2006.


6 Responses

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  1. opit said, on 4/28/07 at 9:41 pm

    You are – I suspect – totally missing the point, which is that man is not nearly so much a rational animal as a ‘rationalizing’ animal. I would go so far as to suggest that homophobia seems almost an instinctive reaction in many who seem otherwise intelligent but aggressive male leaders.
    Considering ‘sodomy’ was decriminalized less than fifty years ago – within the memories of many Boomers- and the plodding pace of limiting prejudicial behaviour to any minority, I limit my expectations of social adjustment.

  2. Curtis said, on 4/28/07 at 11:52 pm

    Thank you very kindly for your input, and for raising an interesting point.

    After a good deal of consideration, I really must strongly disagree that homophobia is an instinctive or almost instinctive behavior. An instinctive behavior is one that is genetically programmed and typically has a strong evolutionary basis. The heterosexual drive could be described as instinctive, for obvious reasons, but discrimination against others on the basis of their sexuality hardly seems to qualify as instinctive. Would a child raised by lesbian parents instinctively fear homosexuality anyway? Possibly, but it seems a very far stretch to me. It seems much more likely to me that one’s attitudes about the sexual preferences of others are primarily products of social influences, certainly to include the values and practices of one’s family. Transmission of such attitudes does not require rationalization in many cases and is accomplished through social osmosis, so to speak. Many children learn homophobia from other family members, and many more learn it at church, at school, at play, from the television, etc.

    Furthermore, a number of cultures historical and contemporary are much more permissive of homosexuality than others. If homophobia is an instinctive behavior, it is expressed only in certain cultures, curiously.

    Laws regulating the expression of sexual preference were ruled to be unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 2003. Before that, many states enforced anti-sodomy laws to varying degrees and some observed laws preventing sex between women as well. All states prohibited sodomy prior to 1962, but many states had done away with those laws or had at least reduced the penalties prior to the high court ruling.

    But were laws against sodomy the reason for discrimination against homosexuality? They might have provided a pretext for it, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume they were significantly generative of it. Human homosexuality is evidenced in the earliest historical records, and its presence throughout the animal kingdom implies it was known in prehistory and to our evolutionary precursors. In this light, contemporary society is far past the due date for social adjustment.

    I understand that man is a rationalizing animal. Bertrand Russell never could find much evidence of our rationality. And I certainly agree from experience that, in the US, many boomers and their elders who are still with us might be in some ways awed by the increasing openness of society to alternative lifestyles. I believe that homophobia is on the decline. But many parents who learned to fear or hate homosexuality and homosexuals in childhood will have already spread that message on to the next generation by now. If we limit our expectations for social adjustment too much, then, in my opinion, we discourage it.

  3. opit said, on 4/30/07 at 11:59 am

    I have lived through an era when massive ‘sea change’ in popular attitudes to Negroes took place in the U.S. : I did not experience it directly but only as reported in the media and reflected in popular entertainment and sports.
    Oddly enough, despite my prior comment, it does seem sometimes as if a more radical and discernible outlook is easier to ‘sell’, as people make a change in their inner persona, or self image, where mimicry is a major strategy. ‘Changing one’s mind’ is sometimes thought of in a more shocking way as a change of ‘terms of reference’.
    Have a look at the propaganda tool ‘Overton Window’ – cites are in my Blogroll under that name and also ‘Why the right wing gets it ..’ in the ‘Intel’ header.
    I’m not so much disagreeing with you so much as cross-referencing to related phenomena. Expectations of social adjustment then becomes more a matter of how it is approached.

  4. opit said, on 4/30/07 at 12:08 pm

    ps to that last. Consider the ‘political’ implications of hatemongering of minorities being embedded in powerful ‘religious’ subgroups. Amy Alkon can give you an interesting shot of self-centered but pithy views at Advice Goddess.

  5. […] Monday first news ‘n views Homophobia and Society […]

  6. zbt said, on 5/2/07 at 10:46 am

    I remember the first time I ever heard homosexuality among animals other than humans discussed. I was hanging out with a bunch of animal behaviorists at a bioligical station. They assured me that homosexuality is demonstrated in all species. They also described to me an interesting behavior of some frogs: a slighter male frog, striving to mate with a female frog, would first mimic a female frog to lure a larger, stronger, contending male frog away from their mutual conquest. After succeeding in luring the other male away, he would mate with the female. My behaviorist friends called these frogs “sneaky f***ers.”

    If you find that term in poor taste, please feel free to omit my comment. zbt may have an odd sense of humor, but she does not wish to offend :-)

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