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Does being "different" sound like a positive or a negative experience to you? For LGBTQ+ persons, daily living can be a frustrating and painful experience in our society. Because they are different in their sexual orientation, LGBTQ+ persons have been oppressed. They suffer social, religious, economic, political and legal discrimination. Much of this discrimination is based on the myths people believe about those who do not identify as heterosexual. For LGBTQ+ persons to be treated equally in our society, we need to dispel these myths. What is most needed is the elimination of the irrational fear and hatred some people have for intimate, same-sex relationships. This irrational fear and hatred is called homophobia.
Myth #1- It's OK to call LGBTQ+ persons names like "queer," "faggot," and "dyke" because they
Fact: A gay man or lesbian is someone whose primary sexual and affectional preference is for a member of his or her own sex. This is different from the statistical norm, but difference does not equal deviance. If it did, blue-eyed people and left-handed people - who are also in the statistical minority - would be considered deviant. Male homosexuals generally prefer to be called "gay," while female homosexuals generally prefer to be called "lesbian," although the term "gay" is often acceptable for both sexes. To be called "queer," "faggot" or "dyke" is derogatory and insulting. [Note that some people within the LGB community have adopted the word "queer" to describe their non-heterosexual orientation. For some in the community, this term is used as a political statement.]
Myth #2- LGBTQ+ persons are mentally ill.
Fact: Homosexuality is considered normal in most of the world's cultures. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders and declared that homosexuality is as healthy as heterosexuality. Like anyone else, however, LGBTQ+ persons can become maladjusted when they are treated with hostility.
Myth #3- LGBTQ+ persons are not "normal."
Fact: Sexual behavior and orientation exist along a continuum that ranges from people who are exclusively attracted to members of the same sex, to people who are equally attracted to members of both sexes, to people who are exclusively attracted to members of the opposite sex. All are normal.
Myth #4- LGBTQ+ persons are few in number and "hide out" in careers like theater, interior design and cosmetology.
Fact: A generally accepted statistic is that approximately one in 10 persons is gay or lesbian. Gay men, lesbian women, and bisexuals are found in all walks of life and in all professions. For example, consider the following professional associations: the National Lawyers Guild Gay Caucus, the Association of Gay Psychologists, the Gay Nurses Association, the Association of Gay Seminarians and Clergy, the Gay Airline Pilots Association, and the Gay Prize Fighters of America Association, to name but a few.
Myth #5- Gay men like to dress as women; gay men wish they were women and lesbians wish they were men.
Fact: Gay men and lesbians, for the most part, are comfortable with their identities as men and women and have no desire to change their sex. Some gay men dress up as women (e.g. for drag shows.) Many men who enjoy dressing up in women's clothing (transvestites) are heterosexual.
Myth #6- LGBTQ+ persons are a menace to children.
Fact: The overwhelming majority of child molestation cases - 90 to 95 percent - involve heterosexual men and are committed against females under the age of 18.
Myth #7- LGBTQ+ persons are promiscuous.
Fact: LGBTQ+ persons are neither more nor less sexually promiscuous than heterosexuals. Like heterosexuals, many gay men and lesbians are involved in monogamous relationships, considering themselves partners and committed to each other for life. Some gay men and lesbians may also choose to remain celibate, and others may have multiple partners, just as some heterosexuals do.
Myth #8- Parents cause their children to become gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
Fact: Reasons that a particular sexual orientation develops are unknown. Current research indicates that it is a very complex matter that involves both biological and environmental influences. Just as we cannot explain what makes some people heterosexual, we do not understand what makes other people gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
Myth #9- If a gay man or lesbian could just meet the "right" member of the opposite sex, then he or she could fall in love and be "cured."
Fact: Many gay men and lesbians have dated members of the opposite sex but find it more fulfilling to date members of their own sex. Most LGBTQ+ persons have no desire to change their sexual orientation. Those who do are usually reacting to negative societal attitudes toward homosexuality.
Myth #10- If a friend tells you he or she is gay, lesbian, or bisexual, then that friend is coming on to you.
Fact: Being gay involves more than a person's sexual activity. When friends "come out" (reveal their sexual orientation) to you, they are essentially inviting you to know them as whole people. If a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person chooses to come out to you, then that person has decided to share part of his or her identity with you. Such a disclosure means only that this friend trusts you, not that he or she would like to become sexually involved with you.
Myth #11- If you have friends who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, that must mean you are also gay.
Fact: Liking or loving someone who is gay, lesbian, or bisexual does not make you gay any more than liking someone who is Catholic or Jewish makes you Catholic or Jewish.
Myth #12- AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a gay disease.
Fact: AIDS is caused by a virus. Viruses infect all kinds of people, regardless of their sexual orientation. Worldwide, the majority of HIV transmission occurs through heterosexual contact. AIDS is spread through the exchange of bodily fluids, such as blood, semen and breast milk. Some people have contracted AIDS from sharing intravenous needles. While AIDS has been contracted by a large number of gay men in the United States, it has also been contracted by heterosexual men and women as well as and children and even infants. Associating with gays does not mean you will get AIDS.
Some additional Myths and Facts…
Myth: Sexual orientation can be changed.
Fact: Research has shown that one's sexual orientation cannot be changed. While it is possible for persons (of any sexual orientation) to change their behaviors, e.g. by choosing to act or not act on their sexual feelings, one's underlying orientation remains constant. For more information, see http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/answers.html#cantherapychange
Myth: Gay men and lesbian women are unfit to be parents.
Fact: Research has shown that the available data do not support negative stereotypes about same-sex parents. For example, children raised by gay or lesbian parents are not more likely to be gay or lesbian themselves, and not more likely to experience problems in development or in relationships with friends/peers compared to those with heterosexual parents. For more information on research related to same-sex parents, please see http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/answers.html#goodparents .
Myth: LGBTQ+ and Ally political organizations are asking for "special rights."
Fact: LGBTQ+ persons want the same rights as heterosexual Americans, including the right to live and work in an atmosphere free of discrimination, the right to be protected from violence and harassment, and the right to form life-long, committed partnerships.
Myth: Gay marriages or civil unions are a threat to heterosexual marriage.
Fact: There is no evidence to support the belief that same-sex unions would undermine heterosexual marriages.
Myth: LGBTQ+ people should not be schoolteachers, because they would bring their sexuality into the classroom.
Fact: Sexuality is neither more nor less a central or defining part of an LGBTQ+ person's life than it is for a heterosexual person. Thus, sexuality would not influence an LGBTQ+ person's teaching any more than it would for one who identifies as heterosexual.
*Adapted from the Counseling Services office of the State University of New York at Buffalo.
How can I tell if someone I know is lesbian, gay, or bisexual?
Ultimately, the only way to tell if a person is lesbian, gay, or bisexual is if that person tells you so. Many lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals don’t fit the common stereotypes, and many people who fit the stereotypes aren’t lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Assumptions on your part can be misguided. The important thing to remember is that it is very likely that someone you interact with on campus is lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and to try to be sensitive to that fact.
What should I do if I think someone is lesbian, gay, or bisexual, but they haven’t told me?
Again, remember that assumptions on your part may be inaccurate. The best approach is to create an atmosphere where that individual can feel comfortable coming out to you. You can do this by making sure that you are open and approachable and by giving indications that you are comfortable with this topic and are supportive of lesbian, gay, and bisexual concerns. If the person is already out to themselves, and they feel that you are worthy of their trust, then they may tell you. If the person seems to be in conflict about something, it may or may not be because of their sexuality. In this case, it is best simply to make sure that they know you are there if they need to talk. Remember, they may not have told you because they don’t want you to know.
How do I make myself more approachable to people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual?
Demonstrate that you are comfortable with topics related to sexual orientation and that you are supportive of lesbian, gay, and bisexual concerns. Be sensitive to the assumptions you make about people—try not to assume that everyone you interact with is heterosexual, that they have a partner of a different gender, etc. Try to use inclusive language, such as by avoiding the use of pronouns that assume the gender of someone’s partner or friends. Be a role model by confronting others who make homophobic jokes or remarks. Become knowledgeable about lesbian, gay, and bisexual concerns by reading books and attending meetings and activities sponsored by LGBTQ+ organizations.
What kinds of things might a person who is lesbian, gay, or bisexual go through when coming out?
Because of the difficulty of growing up in a largely homophobic society, people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual may experience guilt, isolation, depression, suicidal feelings, and low self-esteem. As LGBTQ+ people become more in touch with their sexual orientation, they may experience any number of these thoughts and feelings to some degree. On the positive side, coming out can be an extremely liberating experience, as lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals learn who they are, gain respect for themselves, and find friends to relate to. Coming out to others can be an anxious process, as the individual worries about rejection, ridicule, and the possible loss of family, friends, and employment. For students, college life is already stress filled, and adding the process of grappling with one’s sexual identity to that mix can be overwhelming.
If someone wants advice on what to tell their roommate, friends, or family about being lesbian, gay, or bisexual, how can I help?
Remember that the individual must decide for themselves when and to whom they will reveal their sexual identity. Don’t tell someone to take any particular action; the person could hold you responsible if it doesn’t go well. Do listen carefully, reflect on the concerns and feelings you hear expressed, and suggest available resources for support. Help the person think through the possible outcomes of coming out. Support the person’s decision even if you don’t agree with it, and ask about the outcomes of any action taken.
What do I do if someone who is lesbian, gay, or bisexual wants to come out in my office, on my residence hall floor, or within the context of any other group I am a part of?
Again, help the individual think through the possible outcomes. Discuss how others might react and how the person might respond to those reactions. Mention the option of coming out to a few people at a time, as opposed to the entire group. If someone has decided to come out, let them know you will support them.
How should I respond to heterosexual friends or coworkers who feel negatively about a person who is lesbian, gay, or bisexual in our office, on our residence hall floor, or in any group I am a part of?
When such problems arise, it is most useful to discuss this with the people involved. Help them to see that they are talking about a person, not just a sexual orientation. Make sure that you have accurate information so that you may appropriately discuss the myths and stereotypes that often underlie such negative reactions. Note the similarities between LGBTQ+ people and heterosexual people. Be clear with others that while they have a right to their own beliefs and opinions, you will not tolerate anti-gay comments or discrimination. Remember that others may take their cues from you—if you are uncomfortable with, hostile to, or ignore someone who is lesbian, gay, or bisexual, others may follow suit. Conversely, if you are friendly with the person and treat them with respect, others may follow suit.
What should I say to someone who is afraid of contracting HIV/AIDS from LGBTQ+ people?
HIV is not transmitted through ordinary social contact. It is necessary for everyone to be knowledgeable about HIV and AIDS. If a friend or coworker is afraid and uninformed, use this as an educational opportunity.
How can I support LGB people without my own sexual orientation becoming an issue?
Be aware that if you speak out about issues related to sexual orientation, some people may take this as an indication of your own sexual orientation. Take time in advance to think through how you might respond to this. How do you feel about your own sexual identity? Are you comfortable with yourself? Regardless of your sexual orientation, a confidence in your own self-image will make you less vulnerable.
How should I respond to rumors that someone is lesbian, gay, or bisexual?
Let others know that the sexual orientation of any individual is irrelevant unless that person wishes to disclose that information. If you can, address any myths or stereotypes that may be fueling such speculation. If a particular person continues to spread rumors, talk to that person individually.
How can I get others to be more open-minded about LGBTQ+ people?
In brief, be a role model for others by being open and visible in your support. Share your beliefs with others when appropriate. When LGBTQ+ topics come up, talk about them, don’t simply avoid them. Show that you are comfortable talking about these issues, and comfortable with LGB people. Remember that part of your goal as an ally is to create bridges across differences and to increase understanding. While you may be motivated to share your views with others, be careful of being self-righteous; people quick listening quickly if they perceive you this way. Of course, your views are more convincing if they are supported by sound knowledge. Take the time to educate yourself so that you know what you are talking about.
How can I respond when someone tells a homophobic joke?
Many people believe that jokes are harmless and get upset by what they perceive as the “politically correct” attitudes of those who are offended by inappropriate humor. Labeling a belief as “politically correct” is a subtle way of supporting the status quo and resisting change. Most people who tell jokes about an oppressed group have never thought about how those jokes perpetuate stereotypes, or how they teach and reinforce prejudice. Someone who tells jokes about LGB people probably assumes that everyone present is heterosexual, or at least that everyone shares their negative attitudes toward LGBTQ+ people. However, most people do not tell jokes to purposefully hurt or embarrass others, and will stop if they realize this is the effect. Responding assertively in these situations is difficult, but not responding at all sends a silent message of agreement. No response is the equivalent of condoning the telling of such jokes. It is important to remember that young people, particularly those questioning their own sexual identity, will watch to see who laughs at such jokes, and may internalize the hurtful message. In some instances, the inappropriateness of the joke could be mentioned at the time. In other situations, the person could be taken aside afterward. Try to communicate your concerns about the joke with respect.
How can I respond to homophobic attitudes?
If you disagree with a negative statement someone makes about LGBTQ+ people, the assertive thing to do is to say so. Again, silence communicates agreement. Remember what your goal is in responding: not to start an argument or foster hostility, but to attempt to increase understanding. Disagreement can be civil and respectful. Share your views without accusing or criticizing. You are simply presenting another way of thinking about the topic. It can be difficult to speak out in support of LGBTQ+ people. You might be afraid that others will question your sexual orientation, morals, and values, or that you will be ostracized. It is easy to forget that there might be positive effects of your outspokenness as well.
How can I respond to people who object to LGBTQ+ people for religious reasons?
Usually, there is no way to change the minds of individuals who base their negative beliefs about LGBTQ+ people on strict religious convictions. However, while respecting their right to believe as they wish, you can share some information with them. It can be useful to point out that identifying as Christian is not necessarily incompatible with being supportive of LGBTQ+ people. There is a great deal of diversity among the Christian community with regard to beliefs about same-sex sexuality. In addition, there is much disagreement about the Biblical basis for condemning LGBTQ+ people. Many religious scholars argue that the Biblical passages which are said to refer to same-sex sexuality have been misinterpreted. It is also important to point out that while individuals are entitled to their personal religious beliefs; these opinions should not be used to deny LGBTQ+ people equal treatment under the law.
* Adapted from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Services office at Ohio State University. The article was developed by that office, which adapted it from the Northern Illinois University Safe Zone Program.
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