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Rev. Susan Russell Headshot

The High Cost of Homophobia

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Catching up on the news of the weekend, I came across a new study linking homophobia to repressed same-sex attractions. My first reaction was, "This belongs in the file folder labeled 'Duh!'" -- because it only confirms what we have long suspected, known, and experienced.

From the Science Daily online article:

Homophobia is more pronounced in individuals with an unacknowledged attraction to the same sex and who grew up with authoritarian parents who forbade such desires, a series of psychology studies demonstrates.



...



"In a predominately heterosexual society, 'know thyself' can be a challenge for many gay individuals. But in controlling and homophobic homes, embracing a minority sexual orientation can be terrifying," explains [study leader Netta] Weinstein. These individuals risk losing the love and approval of their parents if they admit to same sex attractions, so many people deny or repress that part of themselves, she said.



In addition, participants who reported themselves to be more heterosexual than their performance on the reaction time task indicated were most likely to react with hostility to gay others, the studies showed. That incongruence between implicit and explicit measures of sexual orientation predicted a variety of homophobic behaviors, including self-reported anti-gay attitudes, implicit hostility towards gays, endorsement of anti-gay policies, and discriminatory bias such as the assignment of harsher punishments for homosexuals, the authors conclude.



"This study shows that if you are feeling that kind of visceral reaction to an out-group, ask yourself, 'Why?'" says Ryan. "Those intense emotions should serve as a call to self-reflection."

You'll want to read the rest here... and then, seriously, file this one away. Not just for the "gotcha" moment when the next outspokenly homophobic sponsor of anti-gay legislation caught playing footsie in the Minneapolis airport men's room or outed in some online texting/dating/hook-up scandal hits the news cycle. And you know it will happen.

Instead, file it away to remember that the hurt, pain, damage, and destruction inflicted by homophobia-based bigotry is all too often the collateral damage of the self-loathing of internalized homophobia. Remember it in order to equip yourself to work like crazy to eradicate homophobia-based bigotry without resorting to dehumanizing those who perpetuate it.

File it way, because respecting the dignity of every human being means every human being -- even the ones who are wounded, blinded, and reactive to their own internalized homophobia. File it away, because, in the words of Desmond Tutu, "[w]hen we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate. All of our humanity is dependent upon recognizing the humanity in others." File it away as a reminder that the defeat of homophobia does not demand the sacrifice of our humanity.

Of course, this doesn't mean we don't name bigotry when it bites us. It doesn't mean we don't challenge homophobia when it rears its ugly head. And it doesn't mean we won't keep insisting that we settle for nothing short of the full inclusion of LGBT people in our churches and the equal protection of LGBT people in our country. And we will do that by continuing to fight to overturn DOMA to secure marriage equality and to pass ENDA to end employment discrimination while we continue to challenge anti-LGBT ideologues who have their theology confused with our democracy.

But here's the bottom line: we are not only "in it to win it"; we are in it to retain our own humanity in the process by refusing to risk becoming what we hate: the dehumanizing fear of "the other."

So join me in filing this study away for future reference... and then let's get back to work making justice roll down like waters, and making liberty and justice for all not just a pledge but a reality!