the PUBLIC FORUM - Homophobia
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  • America has been more successful than most societies in labeling bigotry for what it is, the evil that it is, the stupidity, the ignorance, the anger, the hatred, and ultimately the violence that flows from it. In institutional American life, it is no longer acceptable for the most part for people to be overtly anti-Semitic or overtly racist or overtly sexist or to express, in a generalized way, negative feelings about the disabled. The one bigotry that remains acceptable in large portions of American society is the bigotry against gay men and lesbians.
  • More than fifty percent of gay men and lesbians experience some kind of incident, verbal or physical or otherwise, because of the perception of their sexual orientation. Nine percent of gay men and lesbians have been assaulted with a weapon and the rates are going up, not down. Every other category is down, but crimes against gays and lesbians are going up and that means people are being killed. Matthew Shepard was not an isolated case. People being killed because of the perception of who they are. Bigotry towards gay men and lesbians has been reinforced in institutional America with a variety of rationales. Some are based in theology, which for me has as much legitimacy as for example the justification of apartheid by the theology of the Dutch Reformed Church which rationalized racial bigotry.
  • It is not acceptable to talk about civil rights on the basis of race, creed, color, gender, disability and accept bigotry against other people because of their sexual orientation. That is just wrong and there is no way to overcomplicate it, it is wrong in principle.
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  • It is always easy to see a prejudice when it is blatant and when it is somebody else's, but how do we find our own? Can psychoanalysis help each of us with that task? How does a psychoanalytic organization address its own institutionalized prejudices? It has been the goal of the Committee on Issues of Homosexuality, soon to have a new name, to find ways in which anti-gay bias has impeded our psychoanalytic purpose.
  • Biases and prejudices are by their very nature restrictive, and to some degree everyone loses out.
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  • It falls to me as a Christian minister and a practitioner of religion to indicate that in the matter of sexual prejudice, religion is fundamentally a part of the problem and one can only hope that by acknowledging that, it may well indeed become part of the solution as well. Perhaps the one thing that my profession and yours have in common is that we have a great deal to answer for in the question of this prejudice which we are confronting today.
  • Scripture sanctioned racial segregation, and that the most religious, most churched, most piously populated parts of the country not coincidentally happen to be those places in which racism and slavery and segregation long have flourished. The most pious people found the Bible their easiest ally in maintaining the advantageous social status quo, and saw no conflict in their consciousness between their religious profession on one hand, and htheir heinous social practices on the other.
  • I have come to the conclusion that, at least for people like myself who are practicing religious people, the way to function within the communities of faith is to address the contradiction, the disconnect, as we now like to say, between profession of principle on the one hand and grievous practice and violation of their principle on the other hand and to do so not simply with a wagging of the moral finger, but by pointing to the moral high ground which the Bible and all of our religious traditions affirm.
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  • Permissible prejudices seem natural. These can be taken-for-granted assumptions of basically well meaning people, which have also led, in the case of some analytic traditions and some analysts, to the real abuse of the psychoanalytic situation, when homosexual object choice has been seen as a psychological disorder, and people are thought to be in need of being cured of their sexual orientation -- a distinctly un-psychoanalytic goal. In our society, we pass laws against gay marriage, say that discrimination against gays is okay, and people from ordinary citizens through the senate rail against homosexuality. Homophobia on the individual level usually also has a conscious a pass made at him. A senator invokes the Bible.
  • What seems to be the case is that there is a huge psychic faultline around the sexual body in relation to masculinity. Images of men having sex with other men, a black man having sex with a white woman, a woman who is sexual without having a baby, are for some men extremely threatening.
  • In spite of this absence today of a discussion of women, I do think that by and large what we are calling homophobia or defense against one's homosexual impulses is strongest in heterosexual men.
  • In particular men and in particular situations, both gender and sexual orientation are rigidly dichotomized, fragmented identifications, and any internal challenge to the separateness of maleness and femaleness or of heteroerotic and homoerotic fantasies and attachments threatens real disintegration. Characteristically, the badness, femininity and submissiveness to men has to be split off and projected outward where these in turn become extremely persecutory potential identifications. Those who represent the split off and bad projections threaten not only persecutory return, but also disintegrative flooding to meld and fuse with the self. They need to be attacked and destroyed.
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  • When we speak of internalized homophobia, we refer to the shame, denigration and anger turned inward onto the self of the homosexual individual either as a re-internalization or from the absorption of homophobic attitudes in the environment and then identifying with the hated and feared object. The primary emotion is shame, but a whole gamut of inhibitions, loss of self esteem, depression and self-destructive behavior often follow.
  • In my institute classes, the assumptions that homosexuality was a disorder and could be treated went unquestioned. This was in the 1960's.
  • Professor Gomes has talked about how religion is usually the first source that people use to justify bigotry and oppression. I am afraid that we have to acknowledge that psychoanalysis and some psychoanalytic writings may very well be the second source that people turn to. I think that we can begin to change that now. We still have a small group of members who work vigorously to oppose civil rights initiatives that would protect gays and lesbians, who are also a growing number of our own membership, from the very real discriminations that we potentially face.
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  Copyright, 1999, The American Psychoanalytic Foundation. All Rights Reserved.
all photographs by Mervin S. Stewart, M.D.