Arizona Daily Star, September 7, 1998
P. O. Box 26887,Tucson,AZ,85726
(Fax 602-573-4141 ) (E-MAIL: )
( )
Homophobia is the last of the respectable prejudices
By Jean M. Baker

The open expression of prejudice toward gays and lesbians is reaching new heights as people in positions of power and leadership vehemently attack these groups. Attacks are usually clothed in the mantle of religious and family values, creating a climate in which it is socially acceptable for homosexuals to be humiliated and demeaned.

Peter J. Gomes, professor of divinity at Harvard University, has been frequently quoted as saying that homophobia is "the last respected prejudice of the century." Thus those who would never dare to make the same belittling remarks toward any other minority group find it perfectly acceptable to openly attack homosexuals.

Trent Lott, U.S. Senate Majority Leader, has shamelessly proclaimed homosexuality both a sin and a sickness and compared it to kleptomania and alcoholism.

In South Carolina, a veritable den of homophobia, the Reverend Stan Y. Craig, pastor of the Choice Hills Baptist Church of Greenville, in a slightly less-restrained manner, described homosexuality as "demonic" and as a "stench in the nostrils of God."

Reverend Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, in his usual form, calls homosexuality "the most pernicious evil today." And this summer a large group of conservative religious organizations placed an ad in The New York Times proclaiming homosexuals could be cured of their problem through religion.

It seems there is an unwillingness on the part of these proclaimers of family and religious values to accept the simple fact that there are individuals in every society who, when they fall in love, fall in love with individuals of the same gender. Another simple fact also overlooked is there will always be children who will grow up to be gay or lesbian. The dire warnings appear to be directed toward homosexual adults and suggest in a subtle way that there would be no gay children if we were only able to rid society of gay adults.

This perspective springs from one of the most damaging myths about homosexuals - that children will become gay only if some perverted adult corrupts or converts them. But there will always be children who will grow up to be gay or lesbian. There is no vaccine to prevent homosexuality and there are no parenting methods or religious admonitions that will do so. Nor will the elimination of adult homosexuals from society eliminate a new generation of gays and lesbians.

These children are the most vulnerable victims of homophobia. The pervasiveness of this "respectable prejudice" is deeply damaging to children who are beginning to realize they are somehow different from other children and that the way they are different is considered shameful. Children growing up gay or lesbian in our society are growing up with fear and loneliness and are often unable to speak even to to parents about their feelings.

These children may hear their own parents speak disparagingly about gays and lesbians; in church they may hear homosexuality is a sin; and at school the word homosexual may never be mentioned except with derision. In addition, when outspoken leaders in our country make remarks that can only be interpreted as meaning homosexuals are in some way perverted or evil, the child often internalizes the hate and begins to feel ashamed of that part of him or herself that others hate.

Is it any wonder gay youth has such a high suicide rate? And do the outspoken critics ever consider the effects of their remarks on these lonely and confused children who are trying to understand why it is that who they are and cannot help being is shameful?

Children growing up heterosexual are also harmed, as they are being taught intolerance and prejudice. They are receiving the message that because of their sexual orientation they are superior in some important way and that it is OK to hate homosexuals.

Jean M. Baker is a clinical psychologist practicing in Tucson.

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