By Mona Ahmed, published October 21, 1988
People see them as abnormal, disgusting, sick. They are called vile, immoral, and crazy and they are often the objects of violence and discrimination. They are homosexuals, and despite growing gay and lesbian awareness, today's society in a general is still highly homophobic.
Homophobia refers to the unexplained or irrational fear of sexual and personal intimacy between persons of the same sex. Society's attitudes in general regarding homosexuality are negative. This is exemplified through legal, moral and social policies, the majority of which regard homosexuality as abnormal.
In general, homosexuality is regarded as "immoral," "vulgar," and "obscene," except in the few cities, one state, and a few businesses which include "sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination clauses.
Our culture is based on a monogamous, heterosexual model from which any variation is considered "abnormal." This belief is the moving force behind the four levels of homophobic attitudes developed by Dr. Dorothy Riddle, a psychologist from Tucson, Arizona.
The first of these levels is repulsion, where homosexuality is seen as a "crime against nature." Gays are immoral, sick, crazy, evil, etc. and anything should be done to try to change them.
Another negative attitude is pity. People see heterosexuality as preferable and every effort is made to help "cure" gays. Those who cannot be "cured" are pitied because of their "disease".
"It's kind of sad, I guess," remarked one student. "I mean, there's something wrong with them but I guess they cant help it."
Tolerance is another attitude taken by many people in our society. Homosexuality may be tolerated because it is just a phase of adolescent development and homosexuals may "grow out of it." Consequently, gays are treated as less mature and childish because they are still working through their adolescent behaviors.
The fourth level of negative attitudes is acceptance. This attitude still implies that there is something abnormal which needs to be accepted.
"I think it's okay if that's the way that someone wants to be, as long as they don't bother me. Their sexuality is their own business," said a senior.
One significant aspect of homophobia is not addressed in Riddle's attitudes: AIDS. Fear of AIDS (which is sometimes even referred to as the "gay plague") has increased our society's homophobic attitude.
"AIDS has created an additional stigma for homosexuals. People would rather point the finger at gays like it is their fault than think openly and acceptingly," remarked a freshman.
The emergence of gay awareness and the breaking down of homophobic attitudes appears to be progressing much like the fight for civil rights. Gay advocates are trying to educate the society about gay issues in order to break down negative attitudes.
"When people are uneducated they generally tend to be prejudiced.
People fear differences, similar to the discrimination of blacks or other ethnic or racial groups. Anyone who is different is likely to be ostracized," said a senior.
Although it seems as if the majority of our society condones such negative homophobic attitudes, there are many who promote positive attitudes towards homosexuality as well. Dr. Riddle has similarly developed four positive attitudes.
Those who support homosexuals may themselves be uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality, however, they are aware of the unfairness and discrimination towards gays. in our society and work to safeguard the rights of gays.
"They (homosexuals) are different, but they're still people," said a freshman.
Admiration for gays occurs when people realize that it takes courage and strength to be homosexual in our society. These individuals are able to examine their own homophobic attitudes and begin to combat them.
Those who value gays as a diverse and valid part of our culture have a true appreciation for homosexuality. Such people are willing to fight homophobia in themselves as well as society.
"Homosexuals are human beings and they deserve every right and respect as any other human being," stated a sophomore student.
The final positive attitude is nurturance. These people view gays as a valuable segment of our society. They have overcome their own homophobic attitudes and are able to be gay advocates.