Why Are People Homophobic?

Why Are People Homophobic?


What is Homophobia?

Homophobia refers to the culturally produced fear, or more accurately, prejudice, hatred, and intolerance against people who are attracted to others of the same gender. It exists along with other forms of prejudice such as transphobia and biphobia. It can range from mild dislike to strong hatred of people in the LGBTQIA+ community. Homophobia can manifest itself in legal restrictions (such as marriage inequality), verbal abuse and hostility, and in extreme cases, it can also result in violence towards queer people. The term was coined in the late 1960s by an American clinical psychologist in his book ‘Society and the Healthy Homosexual’.

Even the well-known psychologist, Sigmund Freud, had some erroneous notions about homosexuality. He believed that a child’s upbringing causes homosexuality. He claimed that the absence of a strong paternal figure in childhood results in homosexual desires. He even came up with child-rearing tips to ensure a heterosexual adjustment of a child.

What is Internalised Homophobia?

Internalised Homophobia refers to thoughts, behaviours, and attitudes that arise from the belief that homosexuality is a sin, or inferior to heterosexuality. It is experienced by individuals who are not straight. They tend to internalise homophobic attitudes and hatred that a heteronormative society displays and direct that hatred towards themselves. It is usually experienced by queer teens who have grown up with homophobic parents and peers.

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What is Heteronormativity?

Heteronormativity is the assumption that heterosexuality is normal, and the only correct way of experiencing attraction. Heteronormative societies believe that heterosexuality is superior, and other minority sexual orientations such as homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality etc are wrong and sinful. Everybody is assumed to be straight unless they explicitly ‘come out’ as queer. Psychologists have grappled with homophobia and tried to understand the underlying reasons for this attitude towards queer people. Let us look at some of the reasons why people are homophobic, as suggested by psychologists:


There is a popular theory that hate towards gay people stems from ignorance. A large chunk of the population displays this behaviour simply because they have never interacted with a gay man or a lesbian woman before. Psychologists believe there is some truth to this proposition, and some people’s homophobia can be overcome simply by meeting queer people and having a positive experience of the interaction.

However, psychologists have listed certain conditions that must be fulfilled during this interaction. First, the contact should be ongoing instead of momentary and superficial, second, the contact should be in conditions that foster a cooperative attitude rather than a competitive one, and last, the people involved in the interaction must have some shared beliefs and values other than sexuality.

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Several people exhibit homophobic attitudes as they believe it goes against their religious beliefs. For example, people who follow Christianity believe that the bible says it is sinful for people to engage in homosexuality, thus they condemn queer individuals. It is a major part of their identity to be a religious person, thus, when someone else participates in something that goes against their ideals, they feel threatened and are compelled to be intolerant of it.

It is more difficult to counter this attitude, as mere interaction with queer people hardly has any effect on staunch religious beliefs. Two things can help – one, if religious leaders and other figures of authority offer new interpretations of religious moral codes, that are not homophobic, such religious people might change their attitudes, and two, they’re being presented with contrasting values may also be helpful. For example, if a religious person is also a strong believer in the Constitution, and the Constitution demands that homophobia be abolished, the person may question their homophobic attitudes.

Social Acceptance:

People tend to conform to social norms and attitudes to be accepted by others. In a largely homophobic society, some people who don’t necessarily believe homosexuality to be wrong or sinful might still be homophobic because it helps them meet their needs for affiliation with others. Often, allies of queer people are also discriminated against and ridiculed. This prevents people from expressing their support for them despite their actual beliefs. This kind of homophobia can be combated by altering the pre-existing heteronormative social norms, which discriminate against queer people.

Repression of Homosexuality:

This is another common sense theory about the reason why people are homophobic. It states that some people display homophobic behaviours because they cannot come to terms with their own sexuality and homosexual urges. They have a hard time accepting who they are because society is heteronormative and prejudiced against queer people.

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They are insecure about their sense of identity as a man or a woman. Homophobia, for them, is a defensive attitude; they avoid confrontation with who they are. They deny their tendencies and unconsciously ward off their anxiety about being queer by hating or fearing an external object. Once again, only a society that is more tolerant towards queerness would prevent the very notion that being gay or lesbian is unacceptable, and not lead to this internal conflict in people.

Concluding Remarks

Homophobia has several origin points and serves many psychological functions. However, homophobia is an extremely dangerous attitude and must be weeded out from society. It can lead to anti-gay slurs and bullying of sexual minorities, having a significant negative impact on queer people. They are known to be at a greater risk of developing depressive disorders and even committing suicide due to this societal discrimination. The internet has also become a platform for homophobic bullying. The recent case of the 16-year-old queer make-up artist, Pranshu, who lost his life to suicide because of the relentlessness of homophobic attacks on his Instagram reel is a case in point. Discrimination against gay people pervades every aspect of their lives.

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They find it difficult to find accommodation as house owners and societies refuse to sell places to them. They are legally forbidden from getting married, adopting children, and starting a family. They face harassment in their workplaces. Homophobia also poses direct threats in the form of hate crimes and physical violence.

The stigma and intolerance of sexualities other than heterosexuality is a serious societal issue that must be taken care of. We, as a society, must foster attitudes of acceptance and love for the LGBTQIA+ community. We must attempt to amend laws of a homophobic nature. Parents must support their children who have come out to them, and we must teach all children to be accepting of queer people. Lastly, we must focus on making mental health resources available to queer individuals to protect their lives.

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