What Is Homophobia?

Gay pride hand

 Ijubaphoto / Getty Images

What Is Homophobia?

Homophobia refers to various negative attitudes toward homosexual individuals that may be expressed at the individual, cultural, and institutional level.

While homophobia has evolved throughout history, it continues to create a significant negative impact on those who are the unfortunate targets of contempt, prejudice, and violence.

While the term homophobia itself sounds like the fear of homosexuality or those who identify as LGBTQ+, it's more indicative of people who have an aversion to others who belong to the gay community.

Homophobia Toward Specific Groups

While homophobia might traditionally have been applied only to those considered to be lesbian or gay, the term also extends to bisexual individuals and transgender and transsexual individuals. However, there are also specific terms relating to different types of LGBTQ+ individuals that reflect specific orientations.

Lesbophobia: Lesbophobia refers to homophobia directed toward lesbians (women who are attracted to women).

Biphobia: Biphobia refers to homophobia directed toward bisexual individuals (individuals who are attracted to people of both sexes whether they are considered a man, woman, non-binary, trans, etc.)

Transphobia: Transphobia refers to homophobia directed toward transgender and transsexual individuals, and gender nonconformity (e.g., nonbinary). While this might not be what is traditionally thought of as homophobia, it's becoming more critical as trans individuals are increasingly disclosing their trans status to those around them (including family and friends).

In general, based on how homophobia varies by various social and cultural factors, it seems to stem from ignorance or irrational fear of the unfamiliar.

History

The term homophobia is a relatively new phrase (in the course of history) and was first introduced by psychologist George Weinberg in the 1960s. However, the concept of homophobia can be traced back all the way to ancient Greece, which is the time when it was first considered in common culture.

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association made the decision to remove homosexuality as a diagnosable mental disorder. Later in 1992, the APA released the following statement:

"Whereas homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social or vocational capabilities, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) calls on all international health organizations, psychiatric organizations, and individual psychiatrists in other countries to urge the repeal in their own countries of legislation that penalizes homosexual acts by consenting adults in private. Further, APA calls on these organizations and individuals to do all that is possible to decrease the stigma related to homosexuality wherever and whenever it may occur."

Causes

There are various potential causes of homophobia. For some people there may be one clear cause such as their religious background, others may not be aware of what has caused their homophobia (or even that they are homophobic).

Religion

It's long been the case that religion can be a cause of homophobia. Certain religions teach that homosexual attraction is immoral or a sin. For this reason, those who ascribe to these religions will grow up with this as their cultural understanding. This type of early learning can be difficult to shift or change.

Repressed Desires

There has been some research into the notion that people who engage in homophobia may in fact have repressed homosexual desires. In a well-known study conducted at the University of George in 1996, it was determined that individuals who expressed more homophobia displayed a greater erectile response when viewing explicit sexual images than did those who did not express homophobic attitudes.

This result was employed to argue that homophobia may reflect a covering up of internalized desires. This has also been used to explain why some religious leaders may be publicly homophobic but then later revealed to have engaged in homosexual acts.

Cultural Factors

In a 2019 study, it was determined that homophobia varied by the following factors: age, ethnicity, geographic area, race, sex, social class, level of education, religion, and partisan identification. This indicates that there are multiple potential causes of homophobia and that we need to consider all factors when designing awareness campaigns.

Institutional Factors

It has been argued that a competition for power exists and that homophobia is one way for the larger group to oppress and create a power imbalance for minorities. In other words, the dominant group does not wish to give up their privilege, so they create social norms that are pervasive and indicate what is acceptable and what is not.

Types

Various types of homophobia have been identified and labeled as researchers seek to understand this psychological phenomenon. The primary types that have commonly been categorized include the following four different types.

Internalized Homophobia

Internalized homophobia refers to homophobia that is directed inwardly at yourself. This type of homophobia can arise from a few different situations and can be the most self-destructive from an internalized standpoint.

You Identify as LGBTQ+ But Feel Ashamed of Your Sexuality

The first situation is one in which you yourself are a person who identifies as LGBTQ+, but who has internalized homophobia projected upon you by other individuals or society.

In this case, you may not believe that you deserve the same privileges as those who are heterosexual, or you may settle with accepting less than you deserve.

As an example, you might feel uncomfortable holding hands or kissing your significant other in public, despite the fact that this is a privilege enjoyed by heterosexual individuals without giving it a second thought.

You Identify as LGBTQ+ But Ignore Your Sexuality

The second situation of internalized homophobia involves a person who has experienced a same-sex attraction but who has repressed that attraction because they deem it to be unacceptable (for whatever reason).

For example, a person raised in a family in which homosexuality was not accepted for religious reasons might choose to ignore their preference and instead live life as a heterosexual individual.

Interpersonal Homophobia

Interpersonal homophobia refers to homophobia that takes place between individuals. People who engage in interpersonal homophobia do so based on prejudices that they hold with regard to sexual orientation that result in them experiencing feelings of discomfort or dislike for individuals.

As an example, a person may experience being shunned by a particular relative when that person learns of their sexual orientation. Interpersonal homophobia may also show up in the workplace, either in the form of discrimination from superiors or hostile or dismissive attitudes from coworkers. The same could be said for a student who might experience homophobia in the classroom or on a college campus.

Finally, interpersonal homophobia may also show up in more discreet ways. For example, you might be good friends with someone but that person may treat you differently because of your sexual orientation. For example, a friend might openly share details of their heterosexual relationship with you but then not want to hear details about your relationship.

Institutional Homophobia

Institutional homophobia refers to homophobia that originates within institutions, organizations, governments, businesses, etc. This type of homophobia generally leads to discrimination through the enforcement of policies, allocation of resources, and protection of rights in ways that put individuals with a non-heterosexual orientation at a disadvantage.

For example, a photography business that refuses to take wedding photos for homosexual clients would be engaging in homophobia and discrimination. A law prohibiting marriage between two same-sex individuals is another example of institutionalized homophobia.

Cultural Homophobia

Cultural homophobia refers to homophobia that is transmitted through popular culture in the form of norms and social standards that reinforce the idea that all individuals should have a heterosexual orientation.

For example, television shows, magazine ads, and movies tend to portray mostly heterosexual characters and models.

Signs

Are you wondering what homophobia looks like or whether you might be homophobic yourself? Below are some signs to look for. The truth is that many people are homophobic without realizing this fact. In some ways, this is similar to how people can have subconscious racial prejudice.

You Use Religion to Condemn the LGBTQ+ Community

You may be homophobic if you use your religion to argue that LGBTQ+ don't deserve the same basic rights as others.

You're Against the Gay Pride Parade

You may be homophobic if you argue against the need for demonstrations such as the Gay Pride Parade.

For example, some people might argue that there is no need for a Gay Pride Parade when there is no straight pride parade. This ignores the fact that one group is marginalized and suppressed and fighting for recognition and basic human. Doing this is similar to saying "All Lives Matter" in response to "Black Lives Matter."

If You Are a Man and Avoid Doing Things that Make You "Seem Gay"

If you are a man and are afraid to do certain things that are traditionally viewed as feminine, for fear of appearing "gay," then you may be secretly homophobic.

This includes maybe making complimentary statements to other men while following your compliment with the phrase "no homo."

You Don't Acknowledge Homophobic Behavior

You may be homophobic if you refuse to stand up for gay rights or speak out when someone else is acting in a homophobic manner.

This is similar to refusing to acknowledge or support the Black Lives Matter movement for fear of offending people or linking yourself to the movement.

Impact

There can be various effects of the different kinds of homophobia on LGBTQ+ individuals. Below are some of the common effects:

  • Internalized shame and repression of your sexual orientation
  • Believing negative LGBTQ+ stereotypes about yourself
  • Denying or ignoring your sexual orientation
  • Being the victim of oppression, discrimination, insults, violence, and abuse
  • Depression and an increased risk of suicide (especially in younger people)
  • Increased stress and lack of social support
  • Social anxiety out of the fear of encountering people who are homophobic
  • Rejection from others (family, friends, or coworkers)
  • Difficulty obtaining adequate health coverage and quality services
  • Inability to marry depending on legislation
  • Negative impact on income and employment

How to Reduce Homophobia

Are you interested in learning about different ways to reduce homophobia in your community, within your organization, among your friends and family, or even within yourself?

Or are you wondering what efforts already exist to combat homophobia at a national or international level? Below are some things that you could do to help and also initiatives to know about.

Institutional Homophobia

  • Engage in political activism such as attending protests or signing petitions
  • Make yourself aware of issues relating to legislation and homophobia and engage in political activism related to those issues
  • Encourage schools and colleges to teach students about prominent historical figures who were homosexual to promote understanding and inclusion
  • Report discrimination that you encounter through businesses

Cultural Homophobia

  • Participate in events such as the Gay Pride Parade to bring awareness to differences and the importance of acceptance
  • Spread awareness about homophobia by sharing media campaigns
  • If you are in a position of creating media, be sure to include images reflecting varying sexual orientations

Interpersonal Homophobia

  • Post on social media about important observances such as the International Day Against Homophobia (the very first day was May 17, 2005)
  • If you are a parent, understand the role of bullying in schools in spreading homophobia and teach your children how to treat others
  • Be willing to listen and learn about the experiences of those in the LGBTQ+ community
  • Be open to understanding the challenges that those in the LGBTQ+ community face on a daily basis. Understand that their experiences are different from yours and that they face different problems than you
  • If you are a teacher or school official, promote a positive school environment that encourages respect to be shown toward all students
  • Include information relevant to LGBTQ+ students when discussing health issues or other relevant topics at school
  • Report harassment and call for help if you feel that you or someone else is in danger

Internalized Homophobia

  • Make sure that you have a strong social support system to help combat the impact of homophobia. Surrounding yourself with people who love and understand you will help to build your confidence in yourself
  • Work on your self-esteem and spend time with people who make you feel comfortable being who you are rather than those who expect you to behave in a way that makes them feel comfortable

Coping

How can you cope with being the victim of homophobia? Below are some tips to help you manage the reactions of others and how you respond in a way that promotes understanding instead of division.

Find a Support System

It's always important to find people who support and love you for who you are. If your friends and family are not supportive, consider joining a support group (local or online) to meet other people going through the same struggles as you.

Challenge Homophobic Beliefs

While this is easier said than done, try to eliminate negative self-talk and don't buy into stereotypes that harm you and your self-esteem.

If you are dealing with homophobia directed at you by someone who claims that their religion forbids it, you can choose to try to share different perspectives.

For example, you could share about religions that promote full acceptance and inclusivity or talk about how you just want to have the same rights and privileges as heterosexual individuals.

Consider Going to Therapy

If homophobia has had a negative effect on your mental health, consider seeing a mental health professional such as a psychologist or counselor who can help you to develop coping strategies.

Speak Up When You Are Being Mistreated

If someone is directing homophobic comments toward you, avoid becoming defensive. Instead, try to respond in a positive way so that you are not stooping to their level (so to speak). If responding positively feels like too much of an effort, you could choose instead to simply walk away from the situation or the person.

If it's a person who you can't walk away from for some reason (e.g., a family member, a teacher, a classmate), find a person in authority and tell them what is going on. Homophobic insults are considered harassment or abuse and need not be tolerated.

If someone has made you feel uncomfortable with their comments, but you don't think they are aware of their homophobia, consider sharing with them how their words are affecting you. Talking openly about your feelings may help them to realize the impact that they are having, without needing to get upset or be confrontational.

Get to Know Members of the LGBTQ+ Community

If you are the person trying to cope with your own homophobia, consider getting to know an LGBTQ+ person on a personal level.

When a person ceases to be a stereotype and is instead viewed as an individual, it will be harder for you to hold on to incorrect negative assumptions.

Arguments Against Homophobia

Are you looking for some good arguments against homophobia for the next time someone expresses this view?

Here are some talking points to keep in mind. Remember that you likely won't change someone's mind with one conversation, but if you keep talking to them, you might eventually shift some of their long-held beliefs.

  • Sometimes we hold on to beliefs because of traditions. The idea that marriage should only be between a man and woman is a tradition and nothing more. Instead, marriage should be about joining two people together who are in love.
  • When someone argues that their religion speaks out against homosexuality, you can argue that religion has promoted many other acts (e.g., slavery) that are no longer considered acceptable today.
  • The concept that homosexuality is unnatural does not mean that it is necessarily wrong. Many things may go against what we traditionally view as natural, but if they are not hurting anyone then they should be accepted.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you are a victim of homophobia or concerned about how homophobia is affecting others, there are actions that you can take to improve your situation. Know that you are not alone and that change can happen both at an individual level as well as at a community, institutional, and cultural level.

While change may take longer than you would like, it is true that every step toward inclusivity and acceptance means one step away from hatred, violence, contempt, anger, and inequality. Once you make a commitment to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem (whether that is internalized, interpersonal, institutional, or cultural-based), you will begin to appreciate how even the smallest act can make a difference.

While everyone is raised with different ethics and morals, questioning the status quo and thinking for yourself reflects a higher level of understanding and appreciation for the fact that everyone deserves to live their lives free of fear for simply being themselves. Homophobia is what stands in the way for many individuals to do something as simple as that and the first step toward change is to realize that fact.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Burton N. When Homosexuality Stopped Being a Mental Disorder.

  2. Adams HE, Wright LW Jr, Lohr BA. Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal?. J Abnorm Psychol. 1996;105(3):440-445.

  3. Rodríguez-Hidalgo AJ, Hurtado-Mellado A. Prevalence and Psychosocial Predictors of Homophobic Victimization among AdolescentsInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(7):1243.

Additional Reading