The Harms of Homophobia


Verywell / Laura Porter

Homophobia is an irritational dislike of, or prejudice against, people who are LGBTQIA+. The word "phobia" in the name conveys that fear of difference leads to hate; homophobic beliefs can be said to originate out of fear that the white supremacist and colonial status quo regarding gender and sexuality will be challenged, shattering the worldviews of many people, but homophobia manifests as actions that are anything but fearful.

Homophobic actions can include incidents of harassment, discrimination, and violence against people who identify as LGBQ+. The prefix of the word references same or similar gender attraction. Homophobia also affects people who are attracted to multiple genders, even as biphobia is also a relevant term for that community. Transphobia—discrimination against transgender, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming people—intersects with homophobia and shares similar origins, but is a different form of oppression.

There are many people and institutions in our society that are homophobic, but that doesn't make homophobia an acceptable viewpoint to hold. That's because it leads to harm against others and is rooted in anger and fear of difference. Being homophobic is similar to the concept of being racist. Perpetuating either bias places you firmly on the wrong side of history and further away from a world in which all humans are equal.

Ahead, we will review the history of homophobia, the ways that it manifests, and the educational opportunities that can help a person shift from a stance of homophobia to one of acceptance.

History of Homophobia

George Weinberg coined the term homophobia in the 1960s. He wrote a book entitled "Society and the Healthy Homosexual" in 1972, in which he denounced homophobia as a sickness. Though the term wasn't introduced until the '60s, societies throughout history have discriminated against or held negative attitudes toward LGBQ+ people long before this time.

Examples of this include Ancient Greece, where many types of same-gender relationships were common but were not approved of by all people, and in the Middle Ages, when same-sex relationships were tolerated by society at some times but not others.

Our attitudes and understanding around LGBTQIA+ identities have continued to change over the years, especially due to the work of activists and advocates in the community. Due to the medicalization of same/similar-gender attraction, the scientific community has also played a role in destigmatization.

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."

Understanding Homophobia, Heterosexism, and Transphobia

Homophobia is often conflated with heterosexism and transphobia. There are some important differences between these prejudices.

Homophobia vs. Heterosexism

Homophobia is dislike or hate of LGBTQIA+ people, whereas heterosexism describes a society where heterosexual people are the dominant sexuality group. Homophobia operates on a personal and systemic level, while heterosexism operates primarily on a systemic level because it is both the societal belief that heterosexual people should be prioritized above all others as well as the real-world implications of that belief.

These may sound similar, but the difference is that homophobia is a personal feeling you hold, while heterosexism supports those feelings to be part of the systems of our institutions.

Heterosexism is the result of heteronormativity, the belief that being heterosexual is the only "right" or "natural" way to be. Our society is heterosexist meaning that it is common for LGBQ+ people to have lower life expectancies than heterosexual people, and that it is most likely that our laws fail to protect LGBQ+ people or actively discriminate against their community concerning jobs, housing, marriage, and/or healthcare.

Homophobia vs. Transphobia

This is a little trickier because the "T" in LGBTQIA+ is for transgender and nonbinary people, which may lead you to believe that transphobia is just a part of homophobia. However, that isn't the case. Transphobia is a very specific dislike of and discrimination against people who are trans.

Transphobia depends on cisnormativity to exist. Cisnormativity is the idea that being cisgender is the “normal” or “right” way to exist. Transphobia manifests as actions such as violence and the denial of gender-affirming health care. It's possible to be homophobic and transphobic at the same time.

Transphobia is its own term because it is so prevalent in our culture and has led to countless acts of violence against trans people and legislation against their health care. While transphobia and homophobia have things in common like being related to misogyny and sexism, transgender and nonbinary people experience things that cisgender LGBQ+ people don’t, which calls for more specific language.

How Homophobia Manifests Itself

Homophobia can be blatant or subtle. It also presents as institutional as well as personal. Let's look at the ways that homophobia has existed in our society.

  • Bullying and harassment of children and adults
  • Microaggressions
  • The belief that LGBTQIA+ people don't deserve equal rights
  • Not socializing with people you suspect to be LGBTQIA+
  • Making generalized statements about LGBTQIA+ people
  • Thinking that LGBTQIA+ people have "an agenda"
  • Thinking that LGBTQIA+ people want to "convert" children
  • Rationalizing your dislike for LGBTQIA+ people as acceptable due to your religion or culture
  • Acts of violence, up to and including murdering LGBTQIA+ because of their identity
  • Believing that LGBTQIA+ people are different from you or are less valuable to the world than you
  • Worrying that an LGBTQIA+ person will try to "convert" you

Causes of Homophobia

There are many different reasons that homophobia has existed. These are some of the most common reasons.

  • Colonialism: In conquering native societies around the world, colonialists enforced the belief and practice that monogamous, heterosexual relationships were the only acceptable type.
  • Religion: Numerous monotheistic religions have texts that speak out against same-sex relationships, and followers of those religions sometimes use those texts as "proof" that their God does not accept LGBTQIA+ identities.
  • Fear of the unknown: It's easy to be scared of something you aren't familiar with. Sometimes, people are homophobic because they have never interacted with an LGBTQIA+ individual and don't realize that they're far more similar than they are different from one another.
  • Lack of acceptance of your own identity: Homophobia can be internalized if a person doesn't want to accept their own identity. This can lead them to act out against others.
  • Lack of education: Studies have shown that the more people are educated about LGBTQIA+ people, the less likely they are to fear or have negative attitudes toward them.

Impact of Homophobia

Homophobia has many negative impacts on LGBTQIA+ people. These can include:

  • Reduced mental health
  • Worsened physical health
  • Stress and trauma
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Internalized shame
  • Increased risk of substance abuse
  • Lower quality of life

Signs of Homophobia

We all learn as we grow in life. Sometimes, we find ourselves realizing that the viewpoints we hold might not be the best ones. If you realize that you or someone you witness may, in fact, be homophobic, here are some ways to discern if that's the case.

  • You avoid socializing with LGBTQIA+ people
  • You think you're "better than" LGBTQIA+ people
  • You've bullied or harassed LGBTQIA+ people
  • You've discriminated against LGBTQIA+ people by not offering someone an opportunity because of their perceived orientation
  • You think LGBTQIA+ people are going to hell
  • You've physically harmed someone because of their identity
  • You've told your children that being LGBTQIA+ is wrong
  • You think God doesn't like or approve of LGBTQIA+ people

What to Do If You're a Victim of Homophobia

Unfortunately, occurrences of homophobia continue to be prevalent in our culture. Though your instinct might be to fight back against it, this can be dangerous. You should always ensure your own safety before you act.

If you have been the victim of homophobia, seeking help from others is generally your best bet. If the incident occurred at an institution, contact the administration or officials at the school or place of business. Explain the situation, and ask for their help in resolving it.

If the incident was a personal one that didn't occur at a place of business, calling the authorities can be a dangerous move, especially for trans people and other multi-marginalized people—but it may be the right one to make if you were violently harmed or threatened with violence. Standing up for yourself is ideal, but you should only do that if it is physically and emotionally safe for you to do. Otherwise, you should seek outside help to resolve the situation or entirely distance yourself from your assailant if feasible.

If you are seeking support for issues with coming out, relationships, bullying, self-harm, and more, contact the LGBT National Hotline at 1-888-843-4564 for one-to-one peer support.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

How to Shift Culture Away From Homophobia

Homophobia doesn't have to be part of our culture. There are actions we can all take to ensure that we don't behave homophobically.

Don't Make Assumptions

The world is full of all kinds of people, and you never know what any one individual is like until you get to know them. If you find yourself making assumptions about a person you believe to be LGBTQIA+, stop yourself in your tracks. Remember that you don't know them, and they don't deserve to have your negative feelings put on them.

In the same vein, remember that just because a person looks cishet doesn't mean they are. Ask for a person's pronouns rather than assuming you can tell how they identify by looking at them.

Educate Yourself

Read books, watch TV shows or movies, and follow the social media accounts of LGBTQIA+ people. You'll quickly learn that they are just like everyone else. Additionally, you can attend workshops about homophobia to change your past viewpoints and to understand the harm they were causing.

Don't Kid About It

Never make jokes about LGBTQIA+ people, as they are genuinely harmful to many. This serious issue leads to people being harmed and, therefore, is not a joking matter. For example, phrases like, "that's so gay" are insulting and hurtful because they equate "gay" with something that is "bad" or inferior.

If You Have Questions, Ask

Without forcing anyone to take on emotional labor, if you are curious about an LGBTQIA+ person's identity, you can politely ask them about it. It's best to check in first and ensure your questions will be welcome.

Commit to Being an Ally

Whether you keep it to yourself or tell others, commit to becoming an ally to LGBTQIA+ people. You'll gain nothing by trying to keep people from having the same rights as you, whereas by advocating for them, you can help the lives of many.

A Word From Verywell

Gaining a better understanding of the individual lives and experiences of LGBTQIA+ people can help those who are homophobic understand why their behavior is wrong. Consider learning more about what others have experienced through LGBTQIA+ essays about homophobia such as this one.

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

  2. Hubbard TK. Historical views of homosexuality: ancient greece. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.013.1242

  3. Same-sex relations in the middle ages.

  4. Burton N. When Homosexuality Stopped Being a Mental Disorder.

  5. Horton J, Senffner M, Schiffner K, Riveria E, Foy J. The effects of education on homophobic attitudes in college studentsModern Psychological Studies. 1993;1(2).

  6. CDC. Stigma and discrimination affects gay and bisexual men’s health.

Additional Reading

By Ariane Resnick, CNC
Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity.

Originally written by
Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic

Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.

Learn about our editorial process