Big steps have been made in the battle against homophobia since the Stonewall riots of the 1960s. Whatever way you look at it there is less homophobia now than there was then. In Western Europe, Canada and to a lesser extent in the US and Australia there have been important advances in legislation against discrimination based on sexuality. Laws now exist to protect against homophobia in goods, facilities, services and in the workplace. This has been accompanied by unthinkable shifts in attitudes so that homosexuality is now seen as an acceptable way of life by a majority of the population in countries like the UK. One indicator of changing attitudes is a recent study showing that most heterosexual men have kissed another man at some point and are becoming much more tolerant of same sex intimacy. Such behaviour is less likely to be seen as ‘poofy’ or ‘queer’ and is increasingly part of 21st century ‘soft masculinity’ by men who are open minded and tolerant (see Anderson et al 2010).
So, with all this in mind, maybe we’ve achieved all we set out to do half a century ago? Maybe the job of the LGB community is already done? Well, not quite. In spite of all the changes in the last few decades there’s still important work to be done challenging homophobia in particular spheres where discrimination is rife. I’m sure you can think of your own examples but some areas where homophobia is still definitely present and often ignored include the following:
Sports spaces – The football pitch, the rugby club, your local gym. They’re all spaces that are important for lots of gay and bi men, but they are also often sites where verbal and/or physical homophobia is common. Visit any football stadium on a Saturday afternoon or school sports pitch and you’re still likely to here homophobic comments and chants. They’re almost so common place that they’re unnoticed. A recently published article shows homophobia to be more prevalent than racism in football (see http://au.lifestyle.yahoo.com/general/features/article/-/14890101/soccer-fans-say-homophobia ). So what is being done to change attitudes in sports spaces? Sport England are doing some great work to combat homophobia in sport with the help of Gareth Thomas and Ben Cohen. They are looking at policies and structures that prevent LGBT participation in sport and ways to promote equality across sport in general.
Ben Cohen – Rugby Player
LGBT spaces – Maybe you are surprised to see this one but research in the UK and elsewhere (Valentine 2003, Furlong 2012) shows that LGBT bars, clubs and organisations are both supportive and accepting but that they can also be exclusionary spaces where gay and bi men experience intolerance and discrimination. One reason is that many LGBT spaces are focused around white, middle class, able-bodied men and those that don’t fit into this ideal often suffer direct discrimination or may be left to feel out of place. Homophobia is often directed at gay/bi men who show stereotypically gay behaviours, such as those who are camp or effeminate, by other gay/bi men. One example I remember from my own research was one guy who always used to get the rise taken out of him in an LGBT social group for being the campest guy there and who used to spend most of his time at the group alone. For him the LGBT organisation was an unfriendly and homophobic place despite the organisation’s inclusive rhetoric. An important way to challenge this is to ensure that LGBT spaces are as open and accepting as possible and not to assume tolerance on the gay scene or in LGBT organisations simple because they are promoted as gay-friendly.
Evangelical church – The Evangelical church has grown explosively in the last decade or two. Whilst most of the growth has been in the developing world this has also included developed countries such as the UK. London in particular has seen tens of new Evangelical churches opening in the last 10-20 years. Whilst they are important and meaningful spaces for some gay and bi men (and there are even some that oriented to the LGBT community) many of them are extremely intolerant. They are often spaces where homophobic comments are the norm rather than the exception and where LGBT men sometimes feel huge amounts of pressure to stay closeted. Often there is the misconception that gay/bi men aren’t religious and vice versa that leads to a lack of collaboration between the LGBT and religious communities. Through working together and being aware of the influence of faith in the LGBT community, and sexuality in the LGBT community both sectors can ensure they are as open as possible.
Can you can think of your own examples of homophobic spaces? Where have you experienced homophobia? Where do you feel the biggest challenges are? What do you think the best way of combating homophobia in these spaces is?
Why is homophobia a safe sex issue?
Here at GMI we do HIV prevention work. This might sound quite removed from talking about homophobia, but actually discussing discrimination is very much part of the work we do. Our trained counsellors, mentors and sexual health workers explore the relationship between homophobia and unprotected sex in a confidential, non-judgemental manner. One of the linking factors that is often explored is low self-esteem which can be a consequence of homophobia and can increase the risk of having unprotected sex amongst gay/bi men. If you are interested in exploring this further in one of our services please contact me at email@example.com or take a look at our website http://www.gmipartnership.org.uk/ .