THE BLOG
05/16/2014 06:24 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Why Homophobia Is Not Actually a Phobia at All -- and How We Can Combat It

TED ALJIBE via Getty Images

Homophobia is not like having a fear of spiders or heights or the dark. It's significantly less primal or natural (an ultimate irony), and it's really not related to fear at all. Fear is a behavior that makes us retract and cower. Homophobia, of course, does just the opposite. It's a reactionary slingshot that whips catastrophically damaging hurt at incalculable speeds without aim. Homophobia's face is not one of fear but of its absence.

Fortunately for us, there are other avenues in life that require fearlessness too. As a writer for a travel company, I'm perhaps acutely aware that homophobia isn't the only thing that is propelled forward. So are airplanes. More importantly, so are the people on those airplanes. And whether you're an occasional business traveler or an avid jet-setter, every time you clear security or customs, you don't just take luggage; you also take your attitude and drop it like a tack on our global map.

I'm by no means suggesting that every time we get onto a plane we must represent the best version of ourselves, without consideration of moods or the nuance of our own experience. But hey, could you imagine the possibilities if every traveler holed up at an airport bar didn't laugh out of politeness when a stranger made a crude comment about the "bearded woman" winning Eurovision? Or what if we didn't remain silent when someone says they wouldn't mind gay NFL players as long as they didn't have to see them kissing? Or if we acted a bit more indignant about what's going on in Uganda, Nigeria, Russia and other countries hostile toward LGBT people?

Currently, it's a crime to be gay in 77 countries. I don't think I need to emphasize how terrifying that number is, particularly for the citizens of these countries, who are routinely repressed, denied basic human rights and unable to live out fundamental aspects of their identity. It's also worth noting how much the treatment of LGBT people affects other worldwide concerns, like national security, war, and poverty -- all inextricable links in our global puzzle.

But for many of us, though we might consider ourselves progressive and supportive, it's worth asking if we actively mirror these philosophies, particularly when we travel.

Let me give you an example.

Recently, I was traveling through Iceland solo. I was having dinner with a friend when we struck up a casual conversation with two young women who were seated next to us. When I found out they were also from the States, I soon discovered that we both had roots in Colorado and had a mutual affection for skiing. Without thinking twice, I immediately set out trying to convince this cute young girl that she should date my brother (a weird habit of mine), who also lived out west. She politely declined, but with two birthday cocktails under my belt, I continued to rave about my brother and try to convince her to give him a shot.

Of course, what made me a thoughtful sister also made me a less-than-aware traveler, as my new friend had to finally tell me outright that she was a lesbian, as I was clearly not catching any subtleties. Why did I assume she was heterosexual? Who knows exactly, but it's possibly because it's dictated as the common currency of "normal," even among people who know better. Of course, it was no big deal for either of us, and the conversation carried on smoothly, but I can't help but wonder what our interaction might have looked like if we all were encouraged to make fewer -- or better -- assumptions.

In short, the more acceptable and routine it becomes to hear someone say they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender without fear of persecution or judgment, the more likely we are to stop assuming everyone is straight (and asking if I can set my brother up). It's two sides of the same coin. We need to correct our laws and policies, of course, but we also need to stop assuming that if something isn't outright homophobic, it isn't complacent.

This Saturday marks the 10th International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. For all who travel (and aspire to): Let's not default to only sharing our personalities and our lives' highlights with strangers; we must also share our commitment to the equal treatment of human beings. Let's be fearless both in our ambitions of where we are heading and in what we carry with us.

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