Homophobia is generally defined as intolerance, hostility towards and fear of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
Negative feelings or attitudes towards non-heterosexual behaviour, identity, relationships and community, can lead to homophobic behaviour. These negative feelings fuel the myths, stereotypes, and discrimination that can lead to violence against LGBT people.
There are many different ways in which LGBT people experience homophobia, including malicious gossip, name-calling, intimidating looks, internet bullying, vandalism and theft of property, discrimination at work, isolation and rejection, sexual assault, or physical attacks.
Living in a homophobic environment forces many LGBT people to conceal their sexuality, for fear of the negative reactions and consequences of coming out. For people who have been brought up to believe that homosexuality is wrong, the realisation that they might be gay can cause feelings of shame and self-loathing, leading to a lack of confidence or low self-esteem. Suppressing homosexuality involves denying an important part of a person's identity, and can have a serious impact upon their life and relationships. For some people the dilemma of whether to ‘come out’ or not can cause a great deal of personal distress.
What can we do about it?
Effectively tackling homophobia means addressing prejudicial attitudes and discrimination in all areas of society. Political leaders, police forces, health services, media and employers can all positively influence the way that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are treated.
Schools have an important part to play in challenging homophobia. Homophobia is fuelled by lack of awareness, and educating young people about LGBT issues is fundamental to overcoming widely accepted prejudice. There are various ways in which schools can ensure that students of all sexualities feel included and valued. Teacher training and the integration of sexual orientation into the curriculum, are important for building knowledge and understanding. Providing information and support for LGBT students, and taking assertive action against homophobic bullying, are also vital for creating an environment where all students are supported.
Locally, all secondary schools have received the ‘Dealing with Homophobia and Homophobia in Scottish Schools’ toolkit as well as ‘FIT’ a feature film for schools tackling homophobic bullying. Dundee is also one of four local authorities linked to the Challenging Homophobia Together Project, the aim of which is to reduce homophobia and homophobic bullying in Scottish schools.
Community based organisations play an important role in addressing homophobia. They have the scope to provide support to LGBT people who might feel marginalised and isolated. Such groups can also influence the attitudes of the general public and can campaign for tolerance towards homosexuality.
We all have a role to play in tackling homophobia and showing that discrimination will not be tolerated in any form.