Homophobia is the norm in some societies. It’s even institutionalised in countries like India, where gays and lesbians have no legal protection against abuse and discrimination.
Living with the constant fear of homophobic abuse and harassment is very difficult. At its most extreme, it can take the form of serious physical violence. But everyday bullying and isolation can be equally hard to endure. So what exactly is homophobia, and how can you learn to cope?
What is homophobia?
Homophobia is a negative attitude towards gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. It can be feelings of fear, hatred, or contempt, and is often linked to religious or cultural beliefs.
People who are homophobic usually can’t explain why they feel this way, and believe that their attitude is ‘normal’. And like all irrational fear and prejudice, it can be hard to change.
Homophobia expresses itself in many different ways. When children use the word ‘gay’ as an insult and bully other children who don’t fit into the normal gender stereotypes. Losing your job when your boss finds out that you’re gay. A look of horror on a friend’s face when you come out to them. Harassment in the street, and sometimes even physical attacks.
Watch our animated video produced for 16th May, 2016: International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Dealing with harassment
Harassment can be many things. Often it’s the things people say: a cruel joke, name-calling, or comments on the way you walk, talk, or dress. At other times it can become sexual – someone touching you in a way you don’t like – or physical, if someone pushes you, hits you, or attacks you in any way.
Harassment is a form of bullying. Even when it’s ‘just’ words, it can make you feel terrible. How to deal with it depends very much on the situation and the kind of harassment you’re experiencing, but here are a few tips:
- Don't blame yourself. It's not your fault, and there's nothing wrong with you.
- Reason with the person calmly. Don't lose your temper or give them any reason to get into a fight with you.
- Remember it's not about you - bullies always target people who are different in some way, and people will always gossip. Try not to take it personally or show that you're upset.
- Find someone you can talk to, like a close friend. If you live in an urban area you could also contact an LGB support group. Support groups like the Humsafar Trust and the Naz Foundation can help you make a formal complaint to the police if the harassment becomes severe.
- If you can’t find a support group and don’t know anyone you can talk to, there’s plenty of advice and support available on the Internet. You’re not alone, and other people have been through similar difficulties: you can find their stories online and get in contact with groups who can help you.
- Seek help from friends, colleagues or teachers if the harassment doesn't stop.
- Write it down! Keep a record of what happened, who was there, and what they said. Then, if you want to lodge an official complaint, you have the evidence ready.
- If it's persistent and the perpetrator refuses to stop, report it. If it's happening at work, many companies have a policy on harassment and may be able to support you.
- If it happens in a public place, try to stay in control of the situation. Carry a pepper spray if you feel vulnerable and you're worried about physical violence - but don't use it unless you really have to.